Vast Post on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Okay. You guys asked for it. Several people have wanted to hear what I regard as Scriptural evidence for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. Others have asked other questions. And the gracious and intelligent David Heddle (affectionately described by Joel Garver as the Jose Cuervo of Calvinism) has managed to touch on most of the things everybody has mentioned. So, to answer all of you, I’m answering him. That spells a long blog, but one I hope is useful to y’all:

Mark, Every time you say nobody believes in sola scriptura you’re just as wrong as the last time you said it.

I hear that frequently. But I’ve never heard anything that really does much to rebut what I discussed in By What Authority?. But let’s not get into that right now.

The argument that James was Jesus’ half (blood) brother and Mary was a PV are related but distinct. Obviously if the former is true the latter is false.

Huh? How do you figure? If Jesus is a half-brother (i.e. a son of Joseph by a previous marriage) then he’s not a son of Mary.

But if the former is false, it does not mean the latter is true.

Right. And I don’t claim this train of logic. Remember, a Catholic does not *derive* his doctrine simply from reading Scripture and then cobbling together a “most plausible reading” on the basis of the text alone. Scripture bears witness to the Tradition. It sits in the witness box, not on the judge’s bench. That is the pattern laid down by the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. The fact is, the text is ambiguous. You can read it to mean James is son of Mary, but you don’t have to. Similarly, you can read the text as granting liberty in matters of abortion and polygamy, or as an Arian text, but you don’t have to. Given that the Church has never read the text in this way, the burden of proof is on the one proposing the novel reading to explain why this alternative reading is legitimate when the Church has definitively spoken against it.

I am not claiming you said this, only pointing out that these two must be treated separately, but lately they have been joined at the hip. I think that the scriptural evidence for the former is strong but not conclusive. (One must also examine the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, who refers to James the brother of Jesus (who is described in deific terms), yet also worry about whether those writings were post-edited by well-meaning but foolish early Christians)

The operative words here are “not conclusive”. Locdog is claiming, by raising his voice to a very high volume and hoping that this will substitute for an evidence, that Scripture *is* conclusive and that Catholics *cannot* be at liberty to disagree with his dogmatic insistence that Mary had other children. Since, as you note, Scripture is not clear here (as it is not clear about the deity of the Spirit, the morality of polygamy, or, for that matter, the question of which books belong in Scripture). So all these things are, by Protestant lights, a matter of liberty. As a Catholic I use my liberty to trust the verdict of the Tradition to guide me in my reading of an ambiguous text. What puzzles me is why a Protestant would care so much that I do.

Months ago you claimed that one could not establish the Trinity via sola scriptura, and that on this point Protestants had to resort to their own sacred tradition. You were wrong about that. Now, in point 6, you seem to making a similar claim about Christ’s deity. If so, you are wrong again.

Not quite. Protestants have to resort to Sacred Tradition they have borrowed, usually unconsciously, from the Catholic Faith, in order to interpret ambiguous Scripture.

By the way, the “Why do you call me good?” exchange with the rich young ruler, when properly viewed as rhetorical, is actually Jesus proclaiming His own divinity. Not that the scriptural proof of His divinity rests on that argument.

And, of course, the way we know what defines “properly viewed” is Sacred Tradition, which instructs us to read the text this way out of the multiple ways it might be read. Much the same as with the Perpetual Virginity of Mary and the texts which could be read as referring to siblings of Jesus–or not. Texts which appear to refer to siblings, when “properly viewed” don’t actually do that.

Why do Protestants “care” (about Catholic Marion doctrine)? I can only speak for myself. I don’t really “care” at all. But if you blog about it, and especially if you or your readers belittle or misrepresent Protestant counterpoints, then I will chime in, unless you ask me to cease and desist.

Nope. No need to cease or desist. You are a reasonable person. However, locdog’s more vehement responses yesterday do lend some weight to my point that many Protestants have quite an irrational reaction to Catholics holding this doctrine, for reasons that remain mysterious. A lot of hand waving about elevating Mary to the Fourth Member of the Trinity and “Rome’s” political chicaneries, etc. But when you poke it just a little with a couple of fairly simply questions, the whole thing pops like a bubble.

The problem for most Protestants with Mary’s PV is has nothing to do with sex, or mores, or “feelings” about virginity. It has to do with the fact that we (most of us) don’t see it as being taught anywhere in the Bible.

Understood. So let me give my reasons for why I think there is evidence–evidence, mind you, not “proof”–of the PV of Mary in Scripture. So far, I’ve mostly been focusing on the fact that there’s no solid *disproof* of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary (which means Christians are at liberty to believe it if they like). Here, I would like to show why I think the dogma is consonant with the witness of Scripture.

First, Mary’s curious behavior at the Annunciation. You’re at a wedding shower. Somebody tells the bride, “You are gonna have such a beautiful baby one of these days!” and the bride reacts with amazement. “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” This is rather odd for somebody to say when they are engaged to be married. Most people know, by this age, how this shall be. You’ll be married soon (you’re already betrothed) and then you’ll have kids. It’s a very odd reply–unless she’s already taken a vow of consecrated virginity of some sort.

Second (and very persuasive for me), is Matthew’s account of the Joseph side of the equation: (permit me [SHAMELESS PLUG MODE] to cut and paste from one of the FREE! DOWNLOADABLE! Catholic Scripture Studies I co-author with Scott Hahn for Catholic Exchange [/SHAMELESS PLUG MODE]. Unfortunately, this study (of Matthew) is not currently on line. But as Supreme Plenipotentiary of This Here Blog and as Senior Content Editor of Catholic Exchange, I can fudge these things. Ahem:

As Matthew tells it, Joseph, upon learning this “resolved to send her away quietly” (1:18-19). There are two views of the actions of St. Joseph in Matthew 1. The first may be called the “Suspicion Theory.” This view, which is most common among moderns, is that Joseph disbelieved Mary, suspected her of adultery and contemplated divorcing her in accord with Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The theory holds that St. Joseph tried to do this secretly to avoid subjecting Mary to the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). The difficulty with this theory is that the “righteousness” of Joseph’s character is difficult to reconcile with a willingness to simply ignore part of the Deuteronomic code. Selective obedience to the law of God is hard to reconcile with righteousness.

Another theory concerning St. Joseph’s actions was much more common in the earlier centuries of the church and bears serious reconsideration (it was, for example, the belief of St. Jerome, the premier Scripture scholar of antiquity). This theory may be called the “Reverence Theory.” This theory holds that Joseph believed Mary when she told him she was “with child of the Holy Spirit” and that, precisely because he was a righteous man, recognized his own unworthiness before God to be the husband of such a woman chosen for such an honor. Read in this way, the text makes more sense. First, Joseph’s resolve to be secretive is then seen as a reverent and discrete attempt to keep secret what God has chosen to keep secret. Second, it makes sense of the angel’s urging that Joseph not “fear” to take Mary as his wife. Finally, it explains why the angel is careful to address Joseph as “son of David”: he is being reminded the Messiah is to come through the line of David and that the role has been appointed for him by God, despite his feelings of unworthiness.

Gedankexperiment: Put yourself in Joseph’ s shoes. A godly woman you have known for years and whom you love and know to be absolutely trustworthy tells you she received a Visitation from an angel last night when she was at prayer. She is not given to hysteria or tall tales and she is dead serious. She tells you the angel said she would bear a son by the Holy Spirit. She says the angel told her that her aged cousin is pregnant too. You find out the cousin is pregnant despite her advanced age. As weeks and months roll on, you find your beloved is indeed pregnant too. She looks at you with absolutely honest eyes and says, “Don’t you remember when I told you about the angel and his message?” Do you believe her? I would.

This relates to the fact that the New Testament subtly but very clearly identifys Mary with the Ark of the Covenant, wherein dwelt the Presence of God. Luke 1:35, for instance, quotes the angel as saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” This is very clearly an allusion to the Shekinah glory which overshadowed the Tabernacle and the Ark in the Old Testament (Numbers 9:15). John also makes this connection in his Revelation, where we see first the Ark of the Covenant (Revelation 11:19) and then immediately afterward we see an image of a woman clothed with the sun who gives birth to a “male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (Revelation 12:5). The connection between Mary and the Ark, once it is made, is hard not to see. Knowing the identity of Mary’s “male child,” it would be an easy mental connection for any pious Jew to immediately think of her as a kind of Second Ark.

Well, Joseph of Nazareth was a pious Jew. And, after his dream (Matthew 1:23) he did know the identity of Mary’s “male child”. He also knew, as a Jew steeped in the Old Testament, what happens to people who touch the Ark without authorization (2 Sm 6:6-8). So it becomes very psychologically probable that Joseph, knowing what he knew, also would have chosen celibacy in this rather unusual situation.

Again, this is not “proof”. But it is very interesting Scriptural evidence. Since the Tradition of the Church agrees with this evidence, and since, as you yourself acknowledge, there is not conclusive proof to the contrary, I go with the Church’s Tradition here.

To point out what Luther and Calvin believed (and I don’t concede Calvin believed it, I think it fairer to say he was unconvinced that James was Jesus’ blood brother – which is an entirely different matter) is interesting but inconsequential. Luther and Calvin do not bind our conscience the way the Church binds yours. They are but respected, fallible teachers.

I don’t say they are infallible. I say they are clear evidence that rejecting the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is not, as locdog appears to think, a sine qua non of being Protestant. You can be an orthodox Protestant and believe this doctrine.

What is not at all convincing are absurd arguments like “the blessed womb that carried our Lord could not possibly be used for ordinary purposes”

Ah! I’m glad you mention this, because we agree completely. Allow me to grab the mike for a minute and make a speech. Ahem:

Warning to all Catholic apologists: There is a difference between a dogma and the reasons you give for believing a dogma. The Church tells us we must believe in Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. Full stop. Reasons you give for *why* God might have granted her this favor are entirely secondary and many of the reasons Catholic apologists give are spoken out of turn. So, for example, the claim that “God could not possibly dwell in the womb of a sinner” as an argument for the Immaculate Conception goes beyond what the Church binds us to believe. And, of course, it raises the reasonable question: “Why not, since he dwells in the hearts of sinners?” Likewise, dumb “explanations” of the Trinity (“God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as I am an uncle, father and son all at once”) mean only that the apologist has seized on a bad defense of a doctrine, not that the doctrine itself is false. In the case of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, I can glean a few points from the Tradition (as that virginity *signifies* and Mary, as Icon of the Church, signifies in unique way the disciples devotion to Christ). But such suggestions are not the dogma itself, but only attempts to think with the dogma.

I can’t believe it when I read something like (#12) “Ever noticed that the same people who find the notion of Mary’s PV or Joseph’s celibacy or even the chastity of priests and religious an absolute affront to the natural order, a sort of freakish perversion in the eyes of God, also become absolutely incensed when some liberal secular scholar suggests Jesus had a sex life, and perhaps fathered children by Mary Magdalene”

See above. Bad defenses of a doctrine don’t discredit the doctrine itself.

The “natural order” has nothing to do with our rejection of PV. The fact that it is not taught in scripture has everything to do with it.

Depends on what you mean by “not taught”. Not explicitly taught? Neither is the doctrine that public revelation closed with the death of the apostles. Nor is rejection of polygamy clear (and indeed there are some troubling passages which people, operating without sacred tradition, could regard as making polygamy perfectly legitimate (“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; 8 and I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom” 2 Samuel 12:7-8). But in all these cases, Sacred Tradition and the magisterial office of the Church serve to clarify the fuzzy witness of Scripture. Same with Perpetual Virginity. It’s there in Scripture. It’s just not clearly focused.

Okay. Now step away from the computer and go look into the distance for a while. Sorry for the long post. If it’s any consolation, that’s about all I have to say about this dogma.


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