Mary Ever-Virgin

I say, I've got two Catholicism Explained posts one on top of the other again! Dearie me, I don't like when I do that. *Sigh* Oh well. We've only just begin to explore Marian dogmas in relative depth, so let's get cracking!

Previous Catholicism Explained posts have included:

Today (okay, tonight, it's late) we're focusing on Mary's virginity.

Mary Ever-Virgin

Holy Cards For Your Inspiration: *Mother of God.........:

It's a staple teaching of Christianity that "Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 496). Mary was a virgin when the angel Gabriel appeared to her at the annunciation, and she remained a virgin throughout her pregnancy and delivery of Jesus.

So, as with Mary's divine motherhood, this dogma is not so much focused on Mary as it is on Jesus: by teaching that Mary is ever-virgin, we emphasize that Jesus had no human father but is in every way the Son of God.

I suspect the stumbling block for Protestants comes when we say Mary remained a virgin even after Jesus' birth. I'm going to give the Catechism's paragraph on Mary's perpetual virginity here, and then spend the rest of this post defending/explaining it:

"The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth 'did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it.' And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the 'Ever-virgin.'" (CCC 499)

Scripturally Accurate?

Annunciation /Jacob Kapkov:

Scripture clearly refers to Mary as a virgin at the time of Jesus' conception: "the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary." - Luke 1:26

Matthew's Gospel goes through pains to point out that Joseph is not Jesus' biological father: "When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived to gether, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit." - Matthew 1:18

But what about the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity? Where is that in the Bible?

As with many of the Catholic Church's teachings, there is no Bible verse which explicitly states, "Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life." As far as I know, Scripture is pretty silent on the matter of Mary's perpetual virginity, just as it is on the Assumption (which we'll explore in a few weeks). Evidence for Mary's perpetual virginity is found most strongly in Tradition - more on that in the next section.

But while Scripture doesn't come out and say Mary was always a virgin, it never says she wasn't.

I'll turn to the Catechism again:

"Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, 'brothers of Jesus,' are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls 'the other Mary.' They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression." (CCC 500)

In Aramaic - the language spoken by Jesus - the word for "brother" was the same as that for "cousin." So when the Bible speaks of Jesus' "brothers and sisters," it may well be referring to his cousins or other close relatives. That's how the Church has always interpreted it.

Another verse sometimes cited as evidence against Mary's perpetual virginity is Matthew 1:25: "He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus." As the note on my Bible points out, "the evangelist is concerned to emphasize that Joseph was not responsible for the conception of Jesus. The Greek word translated 'until' does not imply normal marital conduct after Jesus' birth, nor does it exclude it."

The word "until," even in modern English, does not necessarily imply that the thing not done before is done after. For example, if I say, "My inscription in that book will remain until the pages are faded and yellow," I do not mean that my inscription will disappear once the pages are faded and yellow, but that it will stay for a long time.

Tradition and Early Writings

Mary and Baby Jesus:

We've discussed in an earlier post the importance of Tradition and mentioned how there is Oral Tradition to compliment and complete Written Tradition (Sacred Scripture). From looking at early Church Father writings, we can see that Tradition has always held the belief that Mary is ever-virgin. Here are a few early quotes I snagged from this webpage:

"Heretics called Antidicomarites are those who contradict the perpetual virginity of Mary and affirm that after Christ was born she was joined as one with her husband".  - St. Augustine, A.D. 428

"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." - Hilary of Poitiers, A.D. 354

"And to holy Mary, [the title] ‘Virgin’ is invariably added, for that holy woman remains undefiled." - Epiphanius of Salamis, A.D. 375

"You had good reason to be horrified at the thought that another birth might issue from the same virginal womb from which Christ was born according to the flesh. For the Lord Jesus would never have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the eternal king." - Pope Siricius I, A.D. 392

There are some other very interesting quotes included in that article, including ones from St. Jerome and St. Ambrose, but I won't copy and paste them here because I want to focus on another writing: the Protoevangelium of James, which you can find here.

(I had no idea this writing even existed until a few months ago when googling apologetics regarding Mary's perpetual virginity, and pretty much all my information is being pulled from the same article where I found the Church Fathers quotes. Just so you know.)

The Protoevangelium is one of the earliest indicators that Christians have always believed in Mary's perpetual virginity. Like the Book of Enoch (which might sound familiar to any Bryan Davis fans out there), this early religious writing is NOT part of the canon of Scripture - in other words, it's not divinely inspired and shouldn't be taken as 100% infallible Gospel truth. However, it is still valuable for its historical significance. Because it was written in the year 120 A.D. or so, some sixty years after Mary's lifetime, it gives us a good idea of what people believed about her when memories of her life were still fresh and false teachings about her could have been scorned and stomped out by those who knew those who knew her.

According to the Protoevangelium, Mary was dedicated to God at the age of three years and lived in the temple from that point on as a consecrated virgin. Joseph was a widower with children  (some believe Jesus' "brothers and sisters" were actually Jesus' step-siblings) who was selected as Mary's husband - not for the purpose of procreation but so that Mary would have someone to guard and protect her. So there was never any intention that Mary should lose her virginity. As St. Augustine said, Mary "chose to remain a Virgin even before she knew who was to be born of her."

If you take the above story from the Protoevangelium with a pinch of salt, I can't blame you - I do myself. But I found it very interesting and thought I'd share it. :) More importantly, it's early evidence of belief in Mary's perpetual virginity.

Protestant Reformers on Mary's Perpetual Virginity

Our lady of Sorrows:

Not only is Mary's perpetual virginity supported by early historical writings and long years of Church traditions - but by Protestant reformers, too! I found the following quotations on this webpage:

"A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ, but that she conceived Christ through Joseph and had more children after that." – Martin Luther

"The word ‘brothers’, we have formerly mentioned, is employed, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, to denote any relative whatever; and, accordingly, Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons because Christ’s ‘brother’ are sometimes mentioned." - John Calvin

"Then the pious mind finds wonderful delights in searching for the reasons why the lamb chose to be born of a perpetual virgin..." - Huldrych Zwingli

Why Not Believe?

Scripture is silent. It does not proclaim Mary's perpetual virginity, but it does not contradict.

Oral Tradition, the Church Fathers, and the Magisterium of the Church all insist that Mary was a perpetual virgin.

Early writings, not divinely inspired but historically plausible, agree.

Generations upon generations upon generations of Christians have acclaimed Mary by the endearing title, "ever-virgin."

Even the Protestant reformers who rejected the Catholic Church embraced this doctrine.

What could be the harm in believing?


  1. So true! I can't wait to see what you have planned next, Lucy! Although, I do have a request/idea for the distant future if it is acceptable. Perhaps, eventually -like you're going through the Marian doctrines- could you go through the great mysteries of the rosary? I was going through them myself the other day, and all of them are so mystifying, so beautiful! They really are mysteries! And if not, then perhaps a post defending the rosary? Because some Protestant sect believe that the rosary is against scripture in being 'vain prayer' because it repeats itself. I would like to hear your case on that if it would be well for you.

    1. I agree! Perhaps it would be good to hear a bit on the Holy Rosary!

    2. Ooh, good idea, Isi! You know, I kind of had an idea of doing a First Saturday feature and posting a meditation on a different mystery of the rosary every First Saturday. (To go with the First Saturday devotion Mary requested at Fatima.) And maybe I will do a defense of the rosary sometime. :) Thanks for the comments, guys!

  2. Yes! This is wonderful!!! Good job Lucy :)

  3. I think I may have to post my comment in two parts. As usual you have given me plenty to think about, as well as much to say.
    First off: I like how you have the post structured. You have first the issue at hand, then scriptural basis, then traditional and early writing basis, then the issue as seen from a different viewpoint. The structure is both crisp and varied, which is important. You are improving with each post! I do, however, miss the significance section that you had in last post. I’d like to know why these beliefs are so important.
    Now to business: As with the last dogma, I’m happy to find a point on which we can all agree. Yes, I absolutely believe that Mary was still a virgin during Christ’s conception and birth. The virgin birth is prophesied of in the Old Testament and clearly shown in the New Testament. It had to be proven that Jesus came from God, not from man. I can see why this is a dogma. Protestants must all believe this as well.
    But what about after Jesus’s birth? The purpose for her virginity had been fulfilled, hadn’t it? Why would she need to stay a virgin, and why is it part of the dogma? Forgive me if this sounds disrespectful, but I see no more issue in Mary ending her virginity after Jesus’ birth than in her continuing it. (Unless the Protoevangelium is reliable, in which I’d understand where the issue lies. But I’d like to test the Protoevangelium before I trust it).

  4. ...
    But just because I see no issue with something doesn't necessarily mean I believe it. At the end you asked ‘why not believe?’ (By the way, ending the post by hitting the ball back into the readers’ side of the court is another great addition to the series). But it’s not as simple as all that (it never is, is it). There are some things I would like to point out:
    - I’m sorry, but argument by silence is a logical fallacy. It’s risky to assume; and if you can’t prove something then it is just as plausible for that thing to be false as it is to be true. ( If the bible doesn’t say something, then I’d rather look at what is does say, and base my beliefs on that.)
    - The word ‘until’ can both mean ‘up to this point but no further’, and ‘up to this point and beyond’. So the key to this one is in the context. What is the verse trying to say? (Matthew 1:25 stresses Mary’s virginity in order to stress Jesus’ divinity. The whole point is Jesus’ divinity.)
    - Cousin vs. Sibling. Aramaic was only one of the many languages spoken by the Jews. They also spoke Hebrew, Greek, and some even spoke Latin. But the earliest available records of the gospels are in Greek, so why not examine the Greek translation? (Context is also an important factor in this one.)

    I still have many more thoughts and questions, but I leave it at this. Thank you, Lucy! I’m always learning something new with these posts, and I appreciate that.

    1. Wow, thanks for this comment, Blue! You bring up some great points, as always. Keeping the "significance" section is a great idea - I'll try to implement it into the next post.

      To be honest, I'm not sure why it's so crucial that Mary be ever-virgin. At least, I couldn't explain it from sheer logic. It just seems so right that Mary would be a perpetual virgin. Mary's greatest virtue was her openness to God's will, her total humility, her giving herself completely to Him without holding back. She was the only mere human to ever follow God's will as every human was meant to do. Her heart, unstained by Original Sin (we'll talk about this in a future post), was always turned towards God and did not have the inclination to lesser goods that all Adam's other descendants do/did. While I'm not looking down on the beautiful and holy institution of marriage, St. Paul does tell us that the state of virginity is preferable to any other because it allows you to give yourself without reserve to God. And Mary, Catholics believe, drew closer to God than any other human being (always besides Jesus, of course). So it makes sense that the woman who was more radically dedicated to God than anyone else would have made an offering of her perpetual virginity to Him along with everything else.

      Now onto more logical matters. :)

      -argument by silence: We're not arguing by the silence of the Bible here, but by the voice of Tradition. The silence of the Bible merely shows that the teachings of Tradition are not in contradiction to those of Scripture. You see, Catholics believe in "the three-legged stool" - Scripture, Tradition, and the teachings of the Magisterium. It's upon those three legs that theology stands, and if one of those legs is missing the stool falls down. We believe everything the Bible says and that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation; however, there are times when the Bible could be misinterpreted by individual humans very easily, so we need the other two legs of the stool to keep us on track. (Wow, talk about a tangent...)

      -use of the word "until": I agree. Matthew 1:25 can neither be used to prove that Mary was a perpetual virgin nor that she wasn't.

      -Examining the Greek translation is a good idea. I'm sure the Church Fathers have done that, as many of them were experts in Latin and Greek (Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, etc.). I might look this up if I get around to it. :)

      I'm glad these posts are informative, Blue! And thanks so much for being part of the discussion! Catholicism Explained would be really flat without your input. :)

    2. Thank you, Lucy.
      Yes, I think the Significance section is one of the most important aspects. It's always good to know what’s at the heart of each issue, especially for someone who doesn't have the same perspective.

      Alright, now I’m off. Goodbye

  5. I will address some, but I may not be able to do all because I will soon be gone a small while and won't be able to keep up. Firstly, Mary did have reason in continuing her virginity even after Jesus' birth. 1) She was already going to be a virgin before she ever knew she was to bear Jesus, so it would be breaking her own resolution to do otherwise. And for what reason would she do that? Would her being the mother of the Messiah change her wish at all? Why should her bearing Christ get rid of her wish to be a virgin? No, quite the contrary! If she had not born Christ she still would have probably remained a virgin. So why should Christ being born change that? I would think that Jesus being born would just doubly enforce her wish to be a virgin. Because why should another child, one with original sin be inside a sinless woman - inside the immaculate womb that contained God?! So why should she change her mind about her virginity regardless of Jesus. And then even if she wasn't already a virgin, why would she want another child ever to enter that palace of the child where Jesus had been? Why should original sin ever be entertained in the womb that grew the Christ? And then reason 2) As Lucy said, the marriage of Joseph and Mary was more for Mary's protection than for more children. And that being such, it was no anti-marital sin for her to remain a virgin, plus, Joseph accepted her virginity and did not challenge it, so she did no wrong to him as her husband in remaining a virgin. He - her husband - knew and accepted her virginity, why shouldn't we? And then, as I've previously said, why should another child enter the holy housing of the infant Jesus? Another child, stained with original sin. Mary had no original sin, neither did Jesus, so original sin was foreign to Mary. But Joseph did have it, as would have any other child of theirs, so introducing original sin - not into the soul - but into the body of the immaculate woman. All three reasons are good enough reasons (not to mention historical pointings toward such) that Mary would have remained a virgin even after her birthing of Jesus. The purpose of her virginity was purity (and to us future Christians, a good example of chastity) and purity never 'wears down'. Never is purity and chastity reasonless. It is a dogma going right along with her being immaculate. She was perfectly pure - nothing less. That's why it is important. It backs up another dogma and it shows her true chastity and how she loved Jesus - she never let another enter his infant home.

    1. Next, as for the 'logical fallacy' of silence, it isn't one. Now, it would be a logical fallacy if we just assumed it on nothing else - 'Well, there's no reason why it isn't, so it must be'. We could say the same of one of the apostles being a cripple. We could then just assume that one of them was because it never says they weren't. But, unlike this case, there is other reason to believe that Mary was a virgin than the silence of scripture. Historical documents and references, sacred tradition, holy church teachings, and many things passed down from generation to generation in faith. Now, (unless I missed out on some bit historical argument or something) as far as I know, there is no proof supporting the idea that one of the apostles was a cripple, and so why believe it. It is never said or taught anywhere (as far as I know) and scripture is silent on that. So THAT is our logical fallacy, whereas Mary's virginity is not. And, it must also be recognized that we cannot turn to the bible in everything. It is divinely inspired, but it does not 'know everything'. There are certain things you will not find out from it, and so while we can always turn to it, we may not always get from it what we are looking for. There are other divine things in this world, works, people, traditions. So, if the bible doesn't say it, look to another holy or historically plausible (and unbiased) work. And yes the point of the verse may be Jesus' divinity, but to acknowledge that you must acknowledge Mary's virginity. If you deny that she was a virgin, or say that she already knew Joseph, then you are saying Jesus is not the son of God, but of Joseph or any ordinary man. And, last, cousin to sibling. Often the word brother (even today) can be used as a sibling, relative of any kind, or even just a close friend. I call my mother's best friend 'Aunt', and my mother calls her 'sister', but they are not related. I and my cousin were often referred to as 'brothers' when we were small because we were so close, but we did not have the same parents and were not blood brothers - merely cousins. So, I believe that any relative or close friend could be called brother. It has been done for centuries, all over the place. So, this indicates that Jesus' brothers could have easily been - nay, were likely to have been - related to him, but not his true brothers in the sense of full sibling. They might have been children of widower Joseph, they might have been cousins, they might have been close friends. We may never know for sure, but since the church has always taught that Jesus was the ONLY son of Mary, and even scripture does not deny it and in parts can even indicate it, like Lucy said, why should we not believe it?

    2. Wow, thanks for that comment, Darin! Your arguments are always very impressive...

    3. Thank you, Miss Agnes. :) I am an ardent sacrament-lover and apologetics reader/writer .

    4. It shows! :) And you're quite eloquent, too.

    5. Darin, forgive me if I'm reading into this all wrong, but have I offended? I suppose I should apologize and try to explain myself. I’m sorry if my comment was rude. That was never my intention. I don’t intend to accuse or insult. I just want to know what Catholics believe, and afterwards I like to give some perspective from outside Catholicism. Not because I want to argue, but because I think it’s good to hear from –and try to understand-both sides. That’s also why I point things out; it’s not to be aggressive. I do it because I think these are questions that are likely to come up, and I thought they should be considered.
      Again, I’m sorry. I only thought I was being frank. From now on I will be sure to examine my comments more thoroughly.

    6. No, you don't offend at all, Mr, uh, Miss, uh, Blue... Sorry, very bad about always using Miss and Mister even when not necessary. You were being frank, and so was I. I take no offense, and I hope you don't think I did! Yes, indeed you never know answers if you don't ask questions, and so it's fine. I was merely trying to answer your questions in the way of apologizing (apologetics). And I'm glad that you're looking into Catholicism from the outside. It's always good when people investigate the faith, because as remarked before by others 'reason is the gateway to faith'. Anyways, I also hope I did not give any offense in the intenseness of my defenses. What religion have you now, pray tell?


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