Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
Written by: Bro. Rey V. Entila
CFD – diocese of Bacolod (written: June 2005)
Perpetual Virginity. Perpetual, from the Latin “perpetuus”, meaning continuous, and Virginity, from the Latin “virgo” which means maiden, virgin. The Blessed Virgin Mary was a perpetual virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. Her virginity is both physical and moral.
The virginity of Mary includes “mental virginity”, which is a constant virginal disposition, “sensual virginity”, which is freedom from sexual desires, and lastly, “physical virginity”, which is physical integrity. The doctrine of the Church refers primarily to her bodily integrity.
1. Virginity before the birth
Mary conceived by the Holy Ghost without the cooperation of man.
2. Virginity During the Birth of Jesus
Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity.
3. Virginity After the Birth of Jesus
Also after the birth of Jesus Mary remained ever a virgin.
I. The Teaching of the Church
“From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event: Jesus was conceived “by the Holy Spirit without human seed”. The Fathers see in the virginal conception the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own” (CCC 496).
Mary – “ever-virgin”
“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. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin” (CCC 499).
“Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, ‘brothers of Jesus’, are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary’. They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression” (CCC 500).
“Mary ‘remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin’ (St. Augustine, Serm. 186, 1: PL 38, 999): with her whole being she is ‘the handmaid of the Lord’” (Lk 1:38 (CCC510).
Council of Constantinople II
“If anyone will not confess that the Word of God … came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, mother of God and ever-virgin, and was born from her, let him be anathema” (Anathemas Against the “Three Chapters” 2 [A.D. 553]).
II. Old Testament Prophecies
Seven hundred years before the birth of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah prophesied to the distressed people of Israel, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa.7:14) Although the Jews interpreted this verse for the birth of their ideal king in the person of King Hezekiah, and the young unmarried woman (Heb. almah), the New Testament Church applied this prophecy perfectly to Jesus Christ who is perfect king and Messiah who was miraculously born of a pure virgin without the seed of a man. The virgin shall give birth to “a son” and not “sons”.
Since the time of the early Church Fathers, the words of the Prophet Ezekiel were applied to Mary giving birth to only one child. – “And he said to me, ‘This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut”(Ezek. 44:2).
Jesus is predicted as both only child and firstborn. “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born” (Zec 12:10).
III. New Testament Fulfillment
The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) explicitly tell us that the conception and birth of Jesus happened through the supernatural intervention of God in human affairs. Mary was a virgin engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together as husband and wife, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she will conceive a child, not in the human and natural way, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why, “Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” (Lk 1:34).
In the incident of the finding of Jesus in the temple, there was no mention that there were other younger brothers and sisters of Jesus by Mary and Joseph. Jesus could have been reprimanded for not going home in order to care for his brothers and sisters, being a responsible eldest son. But nowhere does the Bible mention this (Lk.2:41-51).
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him” (Mk.6:3) This is the verse most often used by the Fundamentalists to “prove” that Mary is not a perpetual virgin. First, Jesus is called “the son”, not a son or one of the sons of Mary, meaning he is the only son of Mary. Second, the word “brother” in the Jewish context refers not only to being siblings under same father and mother, but also to cousins, relatives, tribesmen and fellow Israelites; therefore, one cannot make a definite conclusion that the “brothers” here means Jesus’ brothers born of Mary. Third, if the Jews would mean without a doubt that they are his real blood brothers, then the expression should be “sons of Mary” which is not used for them. Fourth, James and Joses/Joseph have another Mary as their own mother, “among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mt.27:56); “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid” (Mark 15:47); she is oftentimes called in the Gospels as “the other Mary”: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre… Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre” (Matt. 27:61; 28:1).
“Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus.” Matt. 10:3. The three James related to Jesus are the following: James the Greater, whose brother is John, is the son of Zebedee and his mother is Mary Salome. James the Less, whose brothers are Joses and Jude, has Cleophas/Alpheus as his father and “other Mary”, the relative of Virgin Mary. The last James is mentioned in Acts 15 and Gal.2 and the writer of the Epistle of James. He is the relative of Jesus. All these three James were never mentioned as sons of Jesus’ mother Mary.
The Genealogy of the Brethren
Parents Siblings Biblical Texts
Zebedee and Salome or Mary Salome James the Greater and John the Beloved (Boanerges = Sons of thunder) Mt 10:2; Mk 1:19; Mk 3:17;
Cleophas (Gk.)/Alpheus or Halpai (Heb.) and Mary (or the other Mary) the sister (cousin/relative) of Virgin Mary James, Joses and Jude Mt.10:3; Mt. 27:56,61; Mt 28:1; Jn.19:25; Lk 6;16; Acts 1:13 Holy Spirit (overshadowed Virgin Mary) and Virgin Mary the mother of Jesus Jesus Christ Isa 7:14; Zech 12:10;
“And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself” (Mark 3:21). Jesus’ extended family wanted to seize Jesus out of public dismay. If Jesus were the firstborn son in their family, they could not have acted in that disrespectful manner.
“So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (Jn.19:25-27)
“For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his brothers did not believe in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (Jn.7:3-4)
IV. Protestant Reformers on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary
Martin Luther: “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” (Works of Luther, v. II, pp. 319-320; v. 6, p. 510.)
John Calvin: “Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ” (Calvin, Opera).
“There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company…. And besides this Our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or not there was any question of the second.” (Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25, published 1562.)
Huldrich Zwingli: “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin” (Zwingli Opera, v. 1, p. 424.).
Mary’s perpetual virginity was defended by Zwingli by referring to Exodus 4:22.
V. Modern-day Fundamentalist Objections Against the Doctrine of Perpetual Virginity
“…Mary had other children after Jesus. For one thing, “brothers’ and “sisters” are mentioned in the context of the family with the “carpenter’s son” and “mother,” which clearly indicates they are immediate blood bothers. For another, the Greek term for “brother” (adelphos) here is the normal word for “blood brother.” In fact, there is no single example where adelphos is used for “cousin” in the New Testament. There is a word for “cousin” (anepsios), as in Colosians 4:10, where Mark is described as “the cousin (anepsios) of Barnabas.” (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, P.303.)
The objection above can be answered that to prove that adelphos in the New Testament is also used for persons not related by blood is quite easy. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren (adelphos).” Here, St. Paul refers to Christ as the prominent one among the brothers, not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense.
The paragraphs below will further clarify the Biblical words that have been the cause of much confusion in the Fundamentalists’ groups today.
a. “Brothers” of Jesus
The word “brother” in Hebrew is ‘AH. Unlike the Greeks who utilize a variety of words for cousins and relatives, the Jews who are ever mindful of their common ancestry, call their close and distant relatives (Gk. “sungenis”) as ‘AH (brother). To read therefore from the New Testament that Jesus had brothers and sisters and conclude that they were his siblings in the same mother and father, is a hasty generalization. The earliest disciples who were Jews merely translated the Hebrew ‘AH to a general Greek term for brother.
Even in the Old Testament, Abraham called Lot ‘AH although Lot was Abraham’s nephew (Gk. “anepsios”) / Gen. 13:8; 14:14,16. (see also other references for the word brother which did not really mean strictly sons coming from the same mother. Gen. 29:15; Deut. 23:7; 1 Chron. 15:5-18; Jer. 34:9; Neh. 5:7 -“brethren” means kinsmen). Hebrew and Aramaic have no word for “cousin.” (2 Sam. 1:26; 1 Kings 9:13, 20:32 – 2 Kings 10:13-14 – King Ahaziah’s 42 “brethren” were really his kinsmen).
The real question is, if Jesus had brothers and sisters from Mary and Joseph, why did the Gospels not mention as close to the persecuted and dying Jesus on the way to Calvary? Or, if they were there, why did they not assert their legal right to claim Mary for their care when Jesus gave His mother Mary to his beloved disciple? The fact is, Jesus who cared for the Virgin Mary after the death of St. Joseph, hang suspended and dying on the Cross. With no sibling to care for His widowed mother, He entrusted her to John. This is the Catholic exegesis that perfectly fits the Gospel accounts, as opposed to modern-day Fundamentalists’ weak assumptions.
b. Lk.2:7 “Firstborn” (She gave birth to her firstborn son)
The next word that stirs the minds of many “Bible Christians” today is the word “firstborn”. Immediately it is erroneously concluded that there must be second born or third born or a dozen after the firstborn. But this is not correct biblical interpretation. The word “firstborn” is applied to the first male child who opens the womb of the mother, regardless whether there are other siblings afterwards or not. “Firstborn” is a technical term since one who has that title is given the privilege to receive the material and spiritual blessings of the family. The female child, although may be first in the order of siblings is never considered the firstborn.
“Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (Ex.13:2).
“Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every first-born that opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine” (Nb.3:12).
”The firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the first-born of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty” (Ex 34:20).
c. Matthew 1:25 (Joseph did not know her “until”)
Another word that has confused the minds of the Fundamentalists for a century now, is the word “until” in Matthew 1:25. This is a theological novelty which even the original Protestant fathers never ventured to deny the Blessed Mary’s perpetual virginity. This is again another case of theological bias in order to discredit the Catholic Church’s belief.
The American Heritage Dictionary (1982) gives the meaning of the word “until” – prep. 1. up to the time of 2. before a specified time; conj. 1. Up to the time that 2. before 3. To the point or extent that.
To conclude that the phrase “Joseph did not know her until” means Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after she gave birth to Jesus, is to do violence to the meaning of that word. In that case, the word “until” can also mean that immediately or few days after her giving birth, Joseph had relations with her, to which one may object that it is too much violence to that word. Well, that absurdity happens when one reads the Bible and interprets it by his own little learning and not according to the proper biblical context.
The following verses show the many occurrences of “until” wherein nothing happened to the contrary after it, as oppositionists assert.
”And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt.28:20, NAB); “Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching” (1Tim.4:13).
“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1Cor.15:25); “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Lk 1:80). “And as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day”(Luke 2:37).
“The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.’ (Luke 20:42-43); “and sent forth a raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth” (Gen. 8:7).
“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you” (Gen. 28:15); “And he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows the place of his burial to this day” (Deut. 34:6).
“And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (2 Sam. 6:23); “So they went up to Mount Zion with gladness and joy, and offered burnt offerings, because not one of them had fallen before they returned in safety” (1 Macc. 5:54).
Given the more than a dozen examples above, one can shatter one’s deeply-held bias and replace it with a scholarly viewpoint which considers the totality of the biblical data. That data shows and proves again and again for 2000 years already the Holy Spirit’s constant and infallible guidance of the Church’s faith in the perpetual virginity of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
VI. The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers
Protoevangelion of James (120 AD). “And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by [St. Anne], saying, ‘Anne! Anne! The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive and shall bring forth, and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.’ And Anne said, ‘As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall minister to him in the holy things all the days of its life.’ . . . And [from the time she was three] Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there” (Protoevangelium of James 4, 7).
“And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of priests, saying, ‘Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord?’ And they said to the high priest, ‘You stand by the altar of the Lord; go in and pray concerning her, and whatever the Lord shall manifest to you, that also will we do.’ . . . [A]nd he prayed concerning her, and behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him saying, ‘Zechariah! Zechariah! Go out and assemble the widowers of the people and let them bring each his rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. . . . And Joseph [was chosen]. . . . And the priest said to Joseph, ‘You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the Virgin of the Lord.’ But Joseph refused, saying, ‘I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl’”.
“And Annas the scribe came to him [Joseph] . . . and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest and said to him, ‘Joseph, whom you did vouch for, has committed a grievous crime.’ And the priest said, ‘How so?’ And he said, ‘He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord and has married her by stealth’”.
“And the priest said, ‘Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low and forgotten the Lord your God?’ . . . And she wept bitterly saying, ‘As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before him, and know not man’”.
Origen. “The Book [the Protoevangelium] of James [records] that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word . . . might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the firstfruit among men of the purity which consists in [perpetual] chastity, and Mary was among women. For it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the firstfruit of virginity” (Commentary on Matthew 2:17 [A.D. 248]).
Hilary of Poitiers. “If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate” (Commentary on Matthew 1:4 [A.D. 354]).
Athanasius. “Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary” (Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 [A.D. 360]).
Jerome. “[Helvidius] produces Tertullian as a witness [to his view] and quotes Victorinus, bishop of Petavium. Of Tertullian, I say no more than that he did not belong to the Church. But as regards Victorinus, I assert what has already been proven from the gospel—that he [Victorinus] spoke of the brethren of the Lord not as being sons of Mary but brethren in the sense I have explained, that is to say, brethren in point of kinship, not by nature. [By discussing such things we] are . . . following the tiny streams of opinion. Might I not array against you the whole series of ancient writers? Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and many other apostolic and eloquent men, who against [the heretics] Ebion, Theodotus of Byzantium, and Valentinus, held these same views and wrote volumes replete with wisdom. If you had ever read what they wrote, you would be a wiser man” (Against Helvidius: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary 19 [A.D. 383]).
“We believe that God was born of a virgin, because we read it. We do not believe that Mary was married after she brought forth her Son, because we do not read it. . . . You [Helvidius] say that Mary did not remain a virgin. As for myself, I claim that Joseph himself was a virgin, through Mary, so that a virgin Son might be born of a virginal wedlock” (ibid., ).
Ambrose of Milan. “Imitate her [Mary], holy mothers, who in her only dearly beloved Son set forth so great an example of material virtue; for neither have you sweeter children [than Jesus], nor did the Virgin seek the consolation of being able to bear another son” (Letters 63:111 [A.D. 388]).
Pope Siricius I. “You had good reason to be horrified at the thought that another birth might issue from the same virginal womb from which Christ was born according to the flesh. For the Lord Jesus would never have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the eternal king” (Letter to Bishop Anysius [A.D. 392]).
Augustine. “In being born of a Virgin who chose to remain a Virgin even before she knew who was to be born of her, Christ wanted to approve virginity rather than to impose it. And he wanted virginity to be of free choice even in that woman in whom he took upon himself the form of a slave” (Holy Virginity 4:4 [A.D. 401]).
“It was not the visible sun, but its invisible Creator who consecrated this day for us, when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?” (Sermons 186:1 [A.D. 411]).
“Heretics called Antidicomarites are those who contradict the perpetual virginity of Mary and affirm that after Christ was born she was joined as one with her husband” (Heresies 56 [A.D. 428]).
Cyril of Alexandria. “[T]he Word himself, coming into the Blessed Virgin herself, assumed for himself his own temple from the substance of the Virgin and came forth from her a man in all that could be externally discerned, while interiorly he was true God. Therefore he kept his Mother a virgin even after her childbearing” (Against Those Who Do Not Wish to Confess That the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God 4 [A.D. 430]).
Pope Leo I. “His [Christ’s] origin is different, but his [human] nature is the same. Human usage and custom were lacking, but by divine power a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and Virgin she remained” (Sermons 22:2 [A.D. 450]).