By Jose Ma. J. Fernandez
Was the Blessed Virgin Mary Truly a Virgin? Is there a basis for the Catholic teaching on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary?
For the past two millennia, most Christian churches and even our brothers of the Muslim faith have believed in the Virgin Birth. But it is the Catholic Church alone that has continuously believed in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary: A Virgin before, during, and after the birth of her son Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Incarnate God.
Is this belief in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary one that was plucked out of the thin air of tradition, as our perplexed brothers of the Christian denominations that arose out of the 16th century rebellion so fervently like to believe? Let us examine the facts.
Many of the early Fathers of the Church wrote about the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, and their writings merely mirror a dogma that has been one of the foundations of Christian belief since the life of Christ here on earth.
Among the Church Fathers who have confirmed this dogma are: Sts. Irenaeus, Justin, John Chrysostom, Eusebius, Basil, Jerome, Isidore, and Ildefonsus. St Jerome’s rather long tract against Helvidius is a defense of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. St Epiphanius has especially choice invectives reserved for those who dare insult the doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. Hilary of Poitiers had this to say:
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).
But one of the most beautiful arguments is presented by St Augustine, using biblical typology on why Saint Joseph and Saint Mary did not consummate their marriage: “This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it. Because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it” (Ezek 44:2).
What means this closed gate in the house of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that “no man shall pass through it”, save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this: “The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it,” except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of Angels shall be born of her? And what means this – “It shall be shut for evermore”, but that Mary is a Virgin before His birth, a Virgin in His birth, and a Virgin after His birth.
The earliest biblical narratives only hint at the truths concerning Mary. When asked about this by one visionary, it is said that Mary herself deflected attention to her when Christ had ascended into heaven, always choosing to make the young Christian Church focus instead on her Son Jesus and the Truths that He had taught.
One must also consider the strong Hellenic and Roman influences still existent in the early days of the Church. These pagan influences still carried with them the cults of goddesses and temple virgins, so it is understandable why Mother Mary chose not to have attention focused on her person.
But it does not take a genius to realize that the infancy narratives and much of what we see in the New Testament gospels could only have come from Mary herself or from those who heard the stories from her.
Following are quotes drawn directly from some of the more prominent founders of the Protestant movement.
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" (Weimer's The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510).
Luther in his piece, On the Divine Motherhood of Mary, wrote:
In this work whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such great good things were given her that no one can grasp them. ... Not only was Mary the mother of him who is born [in Bethlehem], but of him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father, from a Mother in time and at the same time man and God.(Weimer's The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 7, p. 572)
Editor Jaroslav Pelikan (Lutheran) adds: "Luther . . . does not even consider the possibility that Mary might have had other children than Jesus. This is consistent with his lifelong acceptance of the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary."
John Calvin: "It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of His Son, granted her the highest honor. ... Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary as at the same time the eternal God" (Calvini Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Braunschweig-Berlin, 1863-1900, v. 45, p. 348, 35).
Ulrich 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, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424).
The 2nd Council of Constantinople pronounced with authority that Mary was Ever Virgin, echoing the belief of earliest times, and confirming what the Catholic Church and Catholics have believed ever since.
Consider that the Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being Omniscient, know about events in the present tense. There is no limitation of Time when it comes to the operations of God. Therefore, God has known about the Divine Economy of Salvation from before time.
Knowing that the 2nd Person of the Trinity was to become Incarnate, the Godhead also had the Virgin Mary present in all her future actions and being in mind. This is why Christian Tradition is of the belief that the Incarnate Christ was presented to the Angels as a trial to confirm them in grace.
They did so, but some of the angels seemed to have rebelled at the thought of having to worship an Incarnate God who seemed of a lesser nature than they were. Their fate was sealed in hell for all time. It was then that the future humble Virgin Mary was designated as the hope of mankind and the punishment of the rebellious angels:
I will put enmities between you and the Woman, and your seed and Her seed: She shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for Her heel (Gen 3:15).
This fall of the angels and the source of their subsequent comfort is conveyed by the Angel Azariah to a Marian visionary:
When Lucifer’s sin upset the order of Paradise and dragged the less faithful spirits into disorder, we were all greatly horrified…..Perfect charity, which until that time was the only thing that existed up in the (Angel’s) Paradise was now destroyed….we wept because…we no longer felt that we were impeccable…that no one but God could resist Pride because Lucifer had yielded to it. At this point, we turned our attention away from the abyss of desolation to the Divinity, so as to behold His splendor….We then contemplated the second Revelation of the Eternal Thought. (It was Mary, who would worship God’s Incarnate Word and become His handmaid). When the proud angels became aware of the first revelation, the Incarnation of the Divine Word, they refused to worship Him. We saw Mary in God’s Eternal Thought…possessing that wisdom which is comfort, security and peace….We greeted our future Queen with the Song of Light. We contemplated her freely received perfections, as well as her voluntary perfections. What a beautiful instant that was…To comfort the faithful Angels, the Eternal One showed them the precious stone of His Love and Power.
Some of the earliest theologians believed that it was Mary who was being alluded to in the 8th Chapter of the Proverbs. Many think that the whole chapter refers to Wisdom, or to the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is uncreated, and Wisdom is an attribute of Mary since she is both the Mother of God (Jesus Christ) and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the fount and source of Wisdom.
We had earlier postulated that Mary existed in God’s Eternal Thought from before time, so consider these as referring to her:
Yahweh created me, the first fruits of his fashioning, before the oldest of his works. From everlasting I was firmly set, from the beginning before the earth came into being. The deep was not, when I was born, now were the springs with their abounding waters. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I came to birth…
The Song of Songs is a love poem that can be interpreted to mirror the relationship of God and his beloved souls, or that between the Holy Spirit and his Eternal Spouse and Bride, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or that between the Incarnate Lord and His Mother. Whichever way one looks at it, many biblical scholars think that Mary is the one alluded to in these verses:
You are wholly beautiful my beloved, and without a blemish… (Songs 4:7) She is a garden enclosed, my sister, my promised bride; a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain (Songs 4:12)
Mary is a sealed fountain and an enclosed garden who was without blemish, and was reserved to the Holy Spirit for all eternity as His Eternal Spouse, and to the Song of God as His most Holy and Blessed Mother.
Mary’s special role in salvation history can also be considered in light of her special relationship with each of the three Persons of the Triune God. When she was immaculately conceived, the Holy Spirit already filled her with so much grace that no earthly vessel could contain such bounty. Furthermore, the virginal womb of Mary carried the uncontainable, the Eternal Son of God. Contemplate the enormity of this and realize that the whole of creation can be carried like a small piece of dust in the palm of the glorified Jesus Christ.
Having prepared such a perfect vessel, it is really inconceivable for the Godhead to allow its most precious possession to be sullied by both sin and carnal matters. In fact, it is said that Mary not only was the model of what God intended Eve and the rest of mankind to be, she has become even more full of grace than all the angels and saints combined.
When the Archangel Gabriel went forth from heaven to carry out his most important mission, he bowed low before the innocent virgin of Nazareth, who had no idea of what Gabriel was expecting of her. And her innocent query on how she was to become the mother of the Christ since she was said to have taken a vow of virginity, was answered, and the Virgin gave her fiat: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” Her humility and obedience more than made up for the pride and disobedience of the devils!
Students of bible history often make use of biblical typology, especially pointing out verses and circumstances in the Old Testament that become true in the New Testament. One of this is the belief in the original Ark of the Covenant as a type of Mary. The original Ark only carried some fragments of the commandments stone, manna, and the rod of Aaron. On the other hand, Mary carried the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. In her reposed the True God, and in her reposed too the Spirit of God, Who filled her with Grace from her birth to her Assumption into heaven.
When Mary became the spouse of the Holy Spirit and the mother of the Incarnate God, she immediately became reserved for God alone. Thus, one can assume that when the angel revealed to St. Joseph that he was to take Mary as his spouse, he understood his role as the earthly guardian and protector of Mary and her Son.
Tradition also has St. Joseph as being a Nazarite, a fact that is confirmed in various episodes in accounts by various Marian visionaries. That Mary was not to be touched or sullied by mere man can again be seen in what happened when the original Ark was being transferred by King David and was accidentally touched by Uzzah, who was struck down dead by Yahweh. In like manner, the Blessed Mary Ever Virgin was never to be ever touched by man.
If Mary were really the mother of so many others – already disproved in so many other instances by known apologists and theologians – it is obvious that she would have been left in the care of these other children by Jesus when He was about to expire on the Cross. But Jesus entrusted His beloved Mother to St. John, in a symbolic gesture making her the mother of all mankind.
Mary, therefore, is the Eternal Virgin who was present in the Eternal Thought before all time, deigned to be the Mother of the Son of God, and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit in a way that one can never imagine – if one can ever visualize a mere creature as the true Bride and Spouse of God.
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