In Defense of the Blessed Mother’s Virginity

     Every Sunday at Mass, when we recite the Nicene Creed, we profess our belief that Jesus “was born of the virgin Mary.”[1] This profession of our Lady’s virginity expresses the ancient belief of our Church, dating back to the early second century and universally held by the 4th century, that the Mother of God was a perpetual virgin, that is to say she remained a virgin for her entire life. Even the early Protestant reformers, including Martin Luther[2] believed in this teaching of our Lady’s perpetual virginity. However, due to the strict adherence to the Protestant insistence on Sola Scriptura and the belief that our Lady’s perpetual virginity is not mentioned in Sacred Scripture, the teaching of her perpetual virginity was left out of the Protestant creeds and over time the belief fell away so that today most Protestants deny the Catholic teaching that Our Lady remained a virgin for life.

     Today, many Protestants read the Bible, see reference to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and immediately draw the conclusion that if Jesus had brothers and sisters, our Blessed Mother could not have been a perpetual virgin. Yet, this hasty conclusion demonstrates a lack of historical knowledge because many of the Church Fathers took up this apparent problem and showed its weaknesses. The teaching of the Father’s defends the Church’s teaching that “the Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary … They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.”[3]

     Those who claim that since the Bible mentions the brothers and sisters of Jesus,[4] our Lady could not have been a perpetual virgin come to the question with a bias which they try to support by citing the scriptures out of context and in so doing the obvious reality that the terms brothers and sisters are often used for a wide variety of biblical relationships is lost to them. In Sacred Scripture the word brothers is used to describe not only biological brothers but also extended relatives and even spiritual brothers. For example Abraham is referred to as Lot’s brother[5] but Abraham is clearly Lot’s uncle.[6] In the New Testament St. Paul tells us “I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord.[7] Clearly the use of the word brother here refers to apostle. St. Paul is certainly not claiming one of the two apostles named James to be a biological brother of Jesus because we know one of the apostles named James was the son of Zebedee[8] and the other apostle named James was the son of Alphaeus,[9] while Jesus was understood to be the son of Joseph. While, at first glance, it may appear that the Bible supports the modern Protestant teaching against the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin, when read in context, it is clear that the bible’s use of the words brothers and sisters says nothing to argue against the perpetual virginity of our Lady.

     Perhaps the simplest defense of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin comes from St. John Chrysostom. He demonstrated Jesus’ command to from the cross to His mother “women, behold your Son,”[10] and to St. John “behold your mother”[11] shows that Jesus had no biological brothers or sisters. By entrusting His mother to His closest disciple Jesus tells us implicitly that He has no biological brothers or sisters, because if he had brothers or sisters it would be their legal responsibility to care for the Blessed Virgin and Jesus would not have needed to arrange for her care with St. John.[12]

     While it is important to know the truths of our faith, it can be easy to be tempted to ask why does the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin even matter. Our Lady’s perpetual Virginity, while appearing to some to be a trivial matter, is an essential component of our faith. Her virginity serves as a sacred sign pointing to the truth of who Jesus is. For Jesus to truly be both God and man, He must have been conceived through the power of God and not through marital intercourse and Our Lady’s virginity at the time of the Annunciation assures us that Jesus is both God and man. Secondly, at the moment of the Incarnation, our Lady’s womb was consecrated and thus it would be foolish for anyone to claim that our Lady who is “full of grace,”[13] nor her husband, St. Joseph, a “just man”[14] would dare use what was set aside for the sacred to nurture children who were simply human and not divine.

     The perpetual virginity of our Lady matters firstly because it is essential to our understanding of who Jesus is. Since Jesus is both God and man,[15] God must be His true Father and the Blessed Virgin must be His true mother. If Jesus was conceived through marital relations between our Lady and St. Joseph, her spouse, Jesus would be just another pure human man, like you and I. But since He was virginally conceived “by the power of the Holy Spirit,”[16] He is truly both God and man.

     Our Lady, by accenting to become the Mother of God, accented also to a special consecration. At the moment she responded to the angel Gabriel “may it be done to me according to your word”[17] God Himself came and dwelled inside her womb. From that moment on her womb, which had an association with the sacred, was consecrated to God and thus it simply would not be fitting for the Blessed Virgin’s womb to carry a child conceived through normal marital intercourse because she would be consenting to use something that was set aside for the sacred for someone that is not consecrated. The Blessed Virgin having additional children through normal marital intercourse would be similar to drinking simple wine from a chalice that is used at Mass to hold the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, an act that any religious person would recognize as sacrilegious.

     The Church, from Her earliest days, has proclaimed the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother. While some modern theologians have decided to challenge this truth of the faith, their arguments fall short. It is essential to Jesus, being both God and man that He be born by the power of the Holy Spirit and not through normal marital intercourse. Jesus, being born of the Blessed Virgin, brought our Lady’s womb in to contact with the sacred thus consecrating it, setting it apart for sacred use. Our Lady who was full of grace would never have dreamed of having other children after Christ because it would defame the sacred. A full understanding of who Jesus and the Blessed Virgin are makes it clear that our Lady, must have been a perpetual virgin.

[1] Nicene Creed [2] Martin Luther claimed Jesus “was born of the pure, holy [and always] Virgin Mary.” Martin Luther Smalcald Articles First Part Treats IV. [3] CCC 500 [4] eg. Mt 13:55-56 [5] Gen 13:8 [6] Gen 11:31 [7] Gal 1:18-19 [8] Mt 10:2 [9] Mt 10:3 [10] Jn 19:26 [11] Jn 19:27 [12] Mark Miravalle, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons. Goleta: Queenship Publishing, 2008) 308- 309. [13] Lk 1:28 [14] Mt 1:19 [15] Jn 1:14 [16] Nicene Creed [17] Lk 1:38

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