Clear Thinking about the Protoevangelium of James

Clear Thinking about the Protoevangelium of James September 18, 2012

Over at the Register, a reader writes concerning the Perpetual Virginity of Mary:

The source of the perpetual virginity of Mary is the “Protoevangelium of James,” generally conidered to have been written in the middle of the second century. It also is the source of the names of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, and the Josephite marriage. The document is very detailed about Marys’s early life and “marriage” to Joseph, an aged widower who didn’t want the marriage. It is so detailed that you have to accept it as revelation and make it part of the canon, or you have to reject it as a fable. The Church has always rejected it. To this day, the Roman Catholic Church regards it as fraudulent, and yet teaches its contents as sacred truth. How do you justify that? How can you justify teaching something the apostles never even heard of?

No. The source of the doctrine is the fact that Mary was perpetually a virgin and the whole Church remembered this fact, beginning with the apostles. The Protoevangelium of James reflects the existence of this tradition and incorporates it into a legend about Mary, but it does not originate the tradition. You might as well say that “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is the source of our belief that Abraham Lincoln existed and was President. No. “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is, like the Protoevangelium, a fictional tale which refers to a tradition which precedes it. One can distinguish between the fiction and the real traditions that fiction exploits to tell a story. That’s why the Church rejects the fictional book, but retains the real tradition about the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, just as we are not forced to conclude that, because “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is fictional, therefore Abe never existed and never was President.

Once we are done discussing the meaning of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, we will take a look at the strong evidence for the historicity of it.

And, by the way, nothing so clearly demonstrates the provincialism of the anti-Catholic American Protestant polemicist as the insistence on attributing some belief common to all the apostolic Churches east and west–from Catholic to Orthodox to Copt to Chaldean to the Thomas Churches of India–to the “Roman Catholic Church”. It’s like the entire Eastern Church doesn’t even exist for these people. I’m sure the Orthodox Patriarchs in their sundry sees will be grateful to know that they only believe all that rubbish about Mary because the Pope of Rome commands them to do so.

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