Jan wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • I was wondering if you know of any sources that defend Mary's virginity?

I'm trying to explain this to a non-Catholic, but I can't seem to articulate it well.

Thank you!!

Jan

  { Do you know of any sources that defend Mary's Virginity? }

Terry replied:

Good afternoon Janet —

You have asked a most interesting and indeed profound question since this subject touches upon the very heart of Catholicism. The reason I suggest it is so important, is, consider the liturgy —
in the Mass we begin with the Confiteor when we confess to Almighty God and ask Blessed Mary, Ever Virgin, and all the Saints to pray for us ... we do this similarly in the Prayers of Intercession, again in the Preface and in the Eucharistic Prayer itself. So what you have asked is at the very heart of our faith.

This long preamble is to explain why I am writing at length. I hope you will be able to pick out the bits of my reply that will help you explain this issue to your friend:

The dogma of the Virgin birth was defined at the Council of Constantinople in the year 553 and was confirmed at the Lateran Council in 640. It is a dogma which has been held by the Fathers of the Church from the very beginning and has its base in Scripture.

The birth of the Saviour from a Virgin was foretold by Isaiah:

"behold a virgin will conceive and bear a son and he shall be called Emmanuel"

(Isaiah 7:14).

There is no ambiguity about the word used, almah. This can be seen as unequivocally virgin in Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:4; Canticles 1:2; Canticles 6:7; Proverbs 30:19 and in many of the Psalms.

The New Testament teaches the Virgin birth in Luke 1:26-27 and Matthew 1:20.

The Early Fathers had no doubt and constantly taught the same doctrine, cf.

  • St. Justin Martyr (Apologies 31:46 and Dialogue with Trypho 85)
  • Aristides Apologies
  • St. Irenaeus Against Heresies 19
  • St. Hilary In Matthew 1:3
  • St. Epiphanius Against the Heresies 1-7
  • and St. Jerome.

The only early theologian to have doubts about the perpetual virginity of Mary was Tertullian.
All these Fathers held that the "brethren of Jesus" (Matthew 7:46-50; Mark 3: 31-35, Luke 8 and John 7:3-10) were cousins of Jesus and all later research has confirmed that this is an authentic interpretation of the original language. A strong defender of the doctrine was St. Athanasius.
A few (especially St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Cyril of Alexandria) believed these referred to children of St. Joseph by an earlier marriage. However NONE, at all, considered these to be children of Mary begotten in the natural way. Zeno of Verona (d.c372)wrote

"O great a mystery, Mary, an incorrupt virgin conceived. After conception she brought forth as a virgin. After childbirth she remained a virgin".

The early Fathers all argue:

  • Her virginity was implied by her answer to the Angel Gabriel:

      "how can this be since I know not a man." (Luke 1:34).

  • If Mary had other children why is Jesus emphatically called "son of Mary" (Mark 6:3) noting especially that there is no mention of Joseph? In the same manner, Mary is never referred to as Mother of the mother of the brethren of Jesus.
  • The Gospel texts imply the "brethren" were all older than Jesus since they tried to give Him advice, they were jealous of His popularity and they tried to "hold" Him suggesting he was mad.
  • If Mary had other children then Jesus, when he was dying on the Cross, why would he have entrusted Mary to the care of St. John?

It seems that James, Joseph, Simon and Jude (the brethren of the Lord) were the sons of Mary Clophas and cousins to Jesus. Vast evidence exists to prove there is no Hebrew or even Aramaic word for "brother" in the sense of sibling as we in the Western World understand the term.

The Catholic belief about Mary's virginity, then, is steeped in Old Testament prophecy, fulfilled in the New Testament and constantly taught and believed by the Church since the beginning.

  • Why would the Church believe this?

The most likely explanation is that Mary herself explained this to the disciples when she was with them, comforting and strengthening them in the Upper Room, after the death of Jesus. Just as when we meet together to mourn the death of a friend or relative, we talk about that person,
so Mary would have talked with the Apostles, telling them about the life of Jesus, and about her own life. From these conversations would come the knowledge from which they would subsequently write the Gospels.

The truth of the doctrine was held very widely in all Christian traditions, including the Jewish-Christian theology, the Antiochene, the Alexandrian, the Augustinian, the Thomist, the Scotist, the Palamite, the Orthodox, as well as the founding fathers of the Lutheran, the Calvinist and the modern Russian Church. It is one of a very few doctrines that is widely held and not disputed.
This is true even in the non-canonical Gospels (such as the Gospel of James).

The Proto-evangelium contains stories of the Bethlehem midwife summoned by Joseph, who upon examining Mary, discovered she was still a virgin (i.e. the hymen was intact). This midwife told another midwife who did not believe her, she came, also examined Mary and upon touching Mary, the midwife's hand withered for her unbelief! Many others teach the virginity of Mary and by the mid-thirteenth century works such as Jacobus de Voragine's "The Golden Legend" extol the virginity of Mary, for example, when he quotes St. Bernard on the Feast of the Purification, February 2nd.

"O Blessed Virgin, you have neither cause nor need of purification..."

An excellent treatment is given by Hilda Graef (University of Cambridge) in her book:

Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion

which is regarded as the classical text on Mary. This book has been granted both the Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat and can be taken as sound Catholic doctrine.

If one accepts Jesus as Lord, then it would be unusual to find a believer who doubts the virginity of Mary. Those who cast doubt on this were mainly Protestant theologians in the 1960's and 1970's and they were the same ones who doubted other accounts in the Bible. In other words, it was not the virginity of Mary which they doubted, rather they had lost the gift of faith in the truth of the inspired word of God, that which is truly, TRUTH itself.

Hope this helps,

Do come back to me if not.

Terry Quinn
England

Mike replied:

Hi Jan,

I have appended two references from the Early Church Fathers below.

Hope this helps a little.

Your friend may say:

Quotes from these Early Church Fathers are not Holy Scripture.

My reply is:

Although they are not in the Scriptures, you can not deny the historicity of the documents and what they say.

Your friend may say:

They are biased because they are from Catholic sources.

My reply is:

Go to a local secular library and look up the same quotes!

Mike


Martyrdom Of The Holy And Glorious Apostle Bartholomew — Around 71 A. D., Chapter Four.

And it happened, when the night had passed, and the following day was dawning, the sun having risen, the apostle appeared alone with the king in his bed-chamber, and said to him: Why didst thou seek me yesterday the whole day with gold and silver, and precious stones, pearls, and raiment? For these gifts those persons long for who seek earthly things; but I seek nothing earthly, nothing carnal. Wherefore I wish to teach thee that the Son of God deigned to be born as a man out of a virgin's womb. He was conceived in the womb of the virgin; He took to Himself her who was always a virgin, having within herself Him who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that therein is. He, born of a virgin, like mankind, took to Himself a beginning in time, He who has a beginning neither of times nor days; but He Himself made every beginning, and everything created, whether in things visible or invisible. And as this virgin did not know man, so she, preserving her virginity, vowed a vow(2) to the Lord God. And she was the first who did so. For, from the time that man existed from the beginning of the world, no woman made a vow of this mode of life; but she, as she was the first among women who loved this in her heart, said, I offer to Thee, O Lord, my virginity. And, as I have said to thee, none of mankind dared to speak this word; but she being called for the salvation of many, observed this--that she might remain a virgin through the love of God, pure and undefiled. And suddenly, when she was shut up in her chamber, the archangel Gabriel appeared, gleaming like the sun; and when she was terrified at the sight, the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favour in the sight of the Lord, and thou shall conceive. And she cast off fear, and stood up, and said, How shall this be to me, since I know not man? The angel answered her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; wherefore also that holy thing which is born of thee shall be called Son of God.(3) Thus, therefore, when the angel had departed from her, she escaped the temptation of the devil, who deceived the first man when at rest. For, having tasted of the tree of disobedience, when the woman said to him, Eat, he ate; and thus the first man was cast out of paradise, and banished to this life. From him have been horn the whole human race. Then the Son of God having been born of the virgin, and having become perfect man, and having been baptized, and after His baptism having fasted forty days, the tempter came and said to Him: If thou art the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves. And He answered: Not on bread alone shall man live, but by every word of God.(4) Thus therefore the devil, who through eating bad conquered the first man, was conquered through the fasting of the second man; and as he through want of self-restraint had conquered the first man, the son of the virgin earth, so we shall conquer through the fasting of the second Adam, the Son of the Virgin Mary.

St. Ambrose Concerning Virgins To Marcellina, His Sister — Around 390 A. D. Book II, Chapter II

The life of Mary is set before virgins as an example, and her many virtues are dwelt upon, her chastity, humility, hard life, love of retirement, and the like; then her kindness to others, her zeal in learning, and love of frequenting the temple. St. Ambrose then sets forth how she, adorned with all these virtues, will come to meet the numberless bands of virgins and lead them with great triumph to the bridal chamber of the Spouse.

6. Let, then, the life of Mary be as it were virginity itself, set forth in a likeness, from which, as from a mirror, the appearance of chastity and the form of virtue is reflected. From this you may take your pattern of life, showing, as an example, the clear rules of virtue: what you have to correct, to effect, and to hold fast.

7. The first thing which kindles ardour in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues? She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile, who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading, resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse; wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all, to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue. When did she pain her parents even by a look? When did she disagree with her neighbors? When did she despise the lowly? When did she avoid the needy? Being wont only to go to such gatherings of men as mercy would not blush at, nor modesty pass by. There was nothing gloomy in her eyes, nothing forward in her words, nothing unseemly in her acts, there was not a silly movement, nor unrestrained step, nor was her voice petulant, that the very appearance of her outward being might be the image of her soul, the representation of what is approved. For a well-ordered house ought to be recognized on the very threshold, and should show at the very first entrance that no darkness is hidden within, as our soul hindered by no restraints of the body may shine abroad like a lamp placed within
.

 

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