There’s Something About Mary.

If there is one point of contention that I get about my Catholic Faith more than any other, it’s what we Catholics believe about Mary. Mark Shea has handled the topic quite thoroughly in his excellent book “Mary, Mother of the Son.” In many ways, I don’t really feel that I can add anything to what he has said, but since he took a several hundred pages to say it, and most of my Protestant friends and family won’t read that much, I’ll do my best to condense it here.

I am indebted to Mark Shea’s book listed above, Jimmy Akin’s “The Fathers Know Best”, Joe Heschmeyer’s blog “Shameless Popery,” and Verbum Bible Software.

Let’s Talk About Mary

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my darling wife posted an article about the same from Catholic Answers. This prompted a respectful discussion on the topic of Mary that I was pleased to participate in. After writing a good deal, and repeating from previous articles, I though I might copy my portion of that conversation here. It is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully it will prove beneficial at answering some of your questions.

Let me warn you both that brevity is not my strong suit, but hopefully clarity is.

These kinds of conversations are tricky because they meander from point to point, and sometimes the points get lost in the sheer volume of information. When looking at a topic, one can either choose the wide angle or the microscope. The microscope often doesn’t make sense without context, and the wide angle is lacking specificity.

I’ll do my best to strike a balance.

I was recently asked several questions on this (and similar topics) and responded with a brief 26 page letter. Some of this response will be copied and pasted. I’ll address a few questions each in their own comment.

I’m going to answer one of your questions first, because it’s foundational to the rest of the discussion.

Scripture and Tradition – We’ll start at the very beginning.

You asked, “Is most of your theology on Mary derived from New Testament scripture or from the Church’s teachings?”

Excellent question. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that Catholic’s put Tradition on the same level as Scripture. This seems odd to those of us who grew up Protestant because we know that while traditions can be endearing, they can also be stuffy, and have the capacity to change and morph over time. These are not the traditions we speak of when we talk about Traditions. Some traditions are Traditions, but a Tradition exceeds tradition. (Make sense?) I didn’t expect it to.

See, the NIV did us all a disservice. If you’re like me, you memorized many passages of scripture from the NIV. But the NIV biased us all against Traditions. How? Well, every time the NIV comes to the word παράδοσις it puts it through a filter before it translates it. If the word is put in a positive light, the NIV translates it “teachings” but if the word is put in a negative light, the NIV translates it “traditions.” This understandably makes us dislike traditions, as the Bible seems dead set against them.

Yet we read in Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

John tells us in John 21:25, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Acts 2:42 tells us that the new believers devoted themselves to “the Apostle’s teaching, yet only only five Apostles wrote any letters (Matthew, Peter, and John, James and Paul), and those letters don’t really get into a whole lot. So we can safely assume that there are some things that the Apostles taught that were not contained in their letters.

Additionally, there is no place in Scripture where we are told which writings we should consider to be the inspired Word of God. The head of each early Church decided for himself what gospel’s and epistles would be read in the Church. The Canon of New Testament wasn’t compiled until A.D. 397. This means that for nearly 400 years, there was no New Testament (as such). They relied on the Apostles Teachings handed down, and guarded, by Tradition.

In fact, Paul told Timothy (his successor, and head of the Church in Ephesus) in 2 Tim 1:13,14, “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.”

Not only is there no place in Scripture where we are told what books should be Scripture, neither are we told that Scripture is supposed to be the sole rule of Faith. Many people point to 2 Tim 3:16 which says that Scripture is profitable for teaching, but notice that he says “All Scripture” and not “Only Scripture.” There were those around who wanted to ignore the Old Testament because Christ had come and fulfilled the Law. Paul is assuring Timothy that even the Old Testament is profitable for “training in righteousness.” And in 1 Tim 3:14 Paul calls the Church (not Scripture) the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth.

So to us, Traditions are those teachings of the Apostles that have been handed down to us through the Church. They do not Change, nor do they contradict Scripture. While there are Traditions that are only echoed in Scripture – and not explicitly stated – no Tradition is at odds with Scripture.

– See, we haven’t even gotten into the questions about Mary yet… I apologize.

As much as possible, I will use scripture directly to answer your questions. Some things are explicitly handled in Scripture. Other things are indirectly answered by Scripture. Still others are a matter of how scripture is interpreted (these issues prove the most difficult, since in some ways it’s he-said/she-said). These are the issues that the “inertia of history” comes into play. These are the issues that I ask myself, “How did people in the 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th centuries interpret this verse? Is there continuity in my interpretation? Is there continuity in another interpretation?

To begin, I’d like to direct you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s section on Sacred Scripture.

The whole section is worthy of examination, but I’ll bring a few paragraphs directly into the discussion.

109 In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.

110 In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”

111 But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.”

[As an aside: the above requires a bit of anthropology, historical sociology, literary criticism, and a grasp of different genres – i.e. poetry is different than narrative is different than apocalyptic.]

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.

112 1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole
Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover. The phrase “heart of Christ” can refer to Sacred Scripture, which makes known his heart, closed before the Passion, as the Scripture was obscure. But the Scripture has been opened since the Passion; since those who from then on have understood it, consider and discern in what way the prophecies must be interpreted.

[In my Protestant Seminary, we called the above the “metanarrative” of scripture – the overarching story/unity]

113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”).

[This again refers to what I call the “inertia of History”]

114 3. Be attentive to the analogy of faith. By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

[The next 5 paragraphs speak of the “senses” of Scripture, I highly encourage you to look it over.]

—-

So, as you see, we have a very high view of Scripture. We believe that it is Divine revelation, it is Divinely inspired and infallible. But we do not believe that it is Perspicuous (clear and easy to understand). We believe that it can be mis interpreted.

In fact, there is an old Italian sentiment that we hold closely to. “Traduttore, Traditore” which means, “Translator, Traitor.” You can never really translate from one language and culture to another language and culture without betraying something essential to the original text. One must have a certain amount of anthropological and sociological education to speak with certainty about some of the more obscure passages of Scripture.

All those Marian Doctrines

Everything that the Catholic Church officially teaches about Mary is because of the implications of those teachings on Christ. Everything we believe about Mary is because it points to some essential quality of Christ.

Here, let’s take a break and point out the difference between dogma and “private revelation.” The Rosary, even the “Hail Mary” prayer, both occupy the position of private revelation. The Church finds nothing objectionable with them, and may even think them to be beneficial for a Christian as part of their private spiritual disciplines, but She (the Church) does not teach them as essential dogmas.

There are only 4 dogmas that have to do with Mary, and remember, they are all because of what the implications mean for Christ.

Here it should be pointed out, that the Church does not define a doctrine or dogma until it is called into question. This doesn’t mean that the Church has changed her mind and added something far after the time of the Apostles, rather, it means that EVERYONE believed it until such time as it was questioned and defined. For instance, It wasn’t until A.D. 325 that the Church defined that Jesus was of the same substance as God the Father (fully human fully Divine). This doesn’t mean that no one believed that Jesus was divine, rather EVERYONE believed it and so there was no need to define it.

So we come to these marian dogmas:

1) Theotokos – God Bearer/Mother of God
2) Perpetual Virginity
3) Immaculate Conception – Conceived in the normal way, but preserved from the stain of original sin.
4) The Assumption of Mary – after the completion of her earthly life, God assumed her body into Heaven.

Mary the Mother of God

Right around the mid 4th century to the mid 5th century, the Church was wrestling with Christology – Just who IS Jesus?

There were some who were saying that the Divine Jesus possessed human Jesus, to whom Mary had given birth, and that this Divine Jesus didn’t really suffer and die on the cross, just the man Jesus did. The Church responded to this strongly (because if Divine Jesus didn’t suffer, then we really aren’t saved, as it was Christ’s divinity that reconciled us to God the Father.

The Church (at the Council of Ephesus in 431) declared that Mary was not only the Mother of Jesus human nature but also of his Divine nature, and that the two natures of Christ subsisted within one person and could not be separated. Mary, the Mother of God, says nothing about Mary. It says everything about Christ, the way we were redeemed (Christology/Soteriology).

So, we believe, along with Christians throughout History, that Mary was the Mother of the person of Jesus, his Humanity and his Divinity.

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Some common arguments to this are scriptures that refer to “the Brothers of the Lord,” and “Joseph did not know Mary until she gave birth to a son.”

First, it is interesting to note that the perpetual virginity of Mary was taken for granted by Christianity until very recently. Even the Protestant founders believed in her perpetual virginity. Even John Wesley, the founder of my former tradition, in the 1700’s believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. How could these men, who relied only on scripture believe such a thing?

I will address it to the best of my ability. This is one of the issues to which I referred isn’t explicitly or indirectly handled, in scripture. Rather it deals with the historical hermeneutic (interpretive) tradition.

Honestly, there are times when scripture is explicit, and the interpretation of a passage or word leaves little room for disagreement. There are other times when what seems explicit becomes ambiguous because of how the original culture used the word. One example of this is Christ’s resurrection on Sunday. Some
passages say “on the third day” while others say “after three days.”

This has led some amateur scholars to say that the crucifixion happened on Thursday, and that there was some strange confluence that required two back to back Sabbaths.

To a historian, that position is laughable. John Walton (professor of Old Testament at Wheaton) reminds us that the Bible was written for us, but not to us. It was written to an ancient audience by an ancient author. So in the case of “after three days” we come to see (by examining other comparable literature of the day) that it was idiomatic, and Semites of that era counted days differently than we do.

What does the resurrection have to do with Mary? It is just an example of how cultures use words differently, and translation can sometimes introduce confusion that they themselves would not have experienced.

As Sherlock Holmes said, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Below are some problems to get around in order to interpret the scriptures in the protestant way. This isn’t to say that you’re wrong, only that there are some challenges to the current common Protestant Interpretation.

Didn’t Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?

Answering Matthew 13:55

i. John 19:25-27 “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

If Mary had other Children, it would have been their responsibility to take care of her when the firstborn died. It would have been highly irregular and offensive for Christ to subvert the natural order and give her into the care of someone else if he had brothers living.

ii. Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 15:40 and John 19:25 give us a list of those who were present at the cross.

“There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”

“There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome.”

“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.”

Depending on how you read this list, there were either three or four people at the cross. We either have:

  1. Mary – Jesus Mother
  2. Mary Magdalene
  3. Mary the wife of Clopas (mother of James and Joses) (possible Mary’s sister – named… Mary.)

OR

  1. Mary – Jesus Mother
  2. Mary Magdalene
  3. Mary the wife of Clopas (mother of James and Joses)
  4. Salome mother of James and John, wife of Zebedee (Mary’s Sister, not named in John, only referred to as Mary’s sister.)

If it is the former list, it would be strange for Mary to have a sister that not only shared her name, but also had children that shared the same names.

We also have the question of who is “James the Just” or “James the Brother of Jesus.” He could be either James the greater (The son of Zebedee and Salome) or James the younger (the son of Cleopas and Mary) *Cleopas is likely a Greek name for Alpheus, as James the son of Alpheus is one of the disciples – much in the same way that Levi/Matthew –Nathaniel/Bartholomew – Thaddaeus/Jude.

We know he is one of the Apostles, and not a third person who shows up after Jesus death because Paul calls him an apostle saying, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.” (Gal 1:18-19)

Joe Heschmeyer has a further examination of this conundrum in his articles Who is James the Brother of the Lord? and Did Mary have other children?

Siblings or Cousins?

Some Protestants hear that Catholics believe these brothers were actually cousins, and they think we’ve either lost our minds, or are engaging in disturbing theological gymnastics just to keep our doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity in tact.

It helps to remember that some ancient Fathers suggest that Matthew (where we see references to Jesus’ Brothers) actually wrote the Gospel in Hebrew, though many modern scholars reject the idea, but we have no extant copies to confirm or deny that proposition.

This makes a difference, because while Greek has a word for “Cousin;” Aramaic does not. If Matthew, a native Aramaic speaker wrote in Greek, it is plausable that he would merely translate his own thoughts, and not look for the Greek word that expressed a concept not present in his own language. It is even more plausible if he wrote in Aramaic, and was translated later into Greek. But why would we make the assumption that Matthew wrote first in Aramaic, since all of the ancient texts we now have are in Greek? Simply put, a lot of people talked about the Aramaic Gospel.

In c. 130 A.D. Papias, bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor, wrote, “Matthew compiled the sayings [of the Lord] in the Aramaic language, and everyone translated them as well as he could” (Explanation of the Sayings of the Lord [cited by Eusebius in History of the Church 3:39]).

Irenaeus of Lyons in A.D. 180 wrote “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies 3:1:1)

Origen, circa A.D. 244 wrote, “Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism and published in the Hebrew language” (Commentaries on Matthew [cited by Eusebius in History of the Church 6:25]).”

Eusebius in the early 4th century (A.D. 300-325) wrote “Matthew had begun by preaching to the Hebrews, and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own Gospel to writing in his native tongue [Aramaic], so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote” (History of the Church 3:24)

Matthew at the very least was a native Aramaic speaker, writing to native Aramaic speakers. It would make sense for him to use the word “brothers” as Aramaic has no word for “cousin.” The Mark passage that says the same thing is lifted word for word from Matthew.

As John Walton (Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College) says, “Remember the Bible was written for us, but not to us.” What would have been very clear to his original readers seems convoluted to us. That seems clear to us, would have been a huge leap to them.

But Joseph had no relations with her *until* she bore [her Firstborn] son,

Answering Matthew 1:24

The Protestant Commentary on the Whole Bible, Robert Jamieson, Andrew R. Fausset, & David Brown, editors, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1961 (originally 1864) says,

1. “The word ’till’ does not necessarily imply that they lived on a different footing afterward (as will be evident from the use of the same word in 1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 6:23; Matthew 12:20); nor does the word firstborn decide the much-disputed question, whether Mary had any children to Joseph after the birth of Christ; for, as Lightfoot says,

“The law, in speaking of the firstborn, regarded not whether any were
born after or no, but only that none were born before.”

  • And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, – 1 Sam 15:35
  • As to Michal daughter of Saul, she had no child till the day of her death. – 2 Sam 6:23
  • A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope. – Mt 12:20–21
  • We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; – Rom 8:22
  • Until I arrive, attend to the reading,* exhortation, and teaching. – 1 Tim 4:13
  • I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; – 1 Tim 6:14
  • except that you must hold fast to what you have until I come. – Rev 2:25

So we see that “until” does not, in and of itself require a change in state after the fact. What is important for the readers of Matthew to see is that there were no relations before the “firstborn” son was born. Christ had to be firstborn, and he had to be born of a virgin. Matthew is showing that Christ met those requirements.

Mary Ever Virgin – the Conclusion?

What we see in scripture (even in the counter verses I’ve provided) does not answer definitively the question presented. It is, at best, ambiguous. It could go either way. Each of us could debate persuasively our position on the matter, each pulling out specific passages. This is when the “inertia of History” carries some weight, in my opinion. How new is the idea of perpetual virginity? Certainly, in terms of defined dogma, it isn’t that old. And if it is a new idea, then it is problematic. Why would we want to define as necessary something that is new? We are supposed to “hold fast to the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” – Jude 3

1. Around A.D. 150 there is a book called the Protoevangelium of James. It tells a story of Mary being a consecrated virgin, dedicated the the Lord. She was given a protector (an older widow – Joseph) lest she defile the temple at puberty. Now, this is certainly not Scripture, but even if it is not a true story, it does show us that around A.D. 150 people were already trying to make sense of her place.

2. In A.D. 249, Origin says, “Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that her body, which was appointed to minister to the Word, which said, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you”, might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it reasonable that Jesus was the first fruit among men of the purity that consists in chastity, and Mary among women; for it is not pious to ascribe to any other than her the first fruit of virginity.

3. Athanasius of Alexandria in A.D. 360 said, “Therefore let those who deny that the Son is from the Father by nature and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh of Mary Ever-Virgin. (Four Discourses against the Arians 2:70)

4. Jerome in A.D. 383 in his work “Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary” said, “I assert what has already been proved from the Gospel –that he spoke of the brothers of the Lord not as being sons of Mary, but brethren in the sense I have explained, that is to say, in point of kinship, not by nature. We are, however, spending our strength on trifles, and, leaving the fountain of truth, are following tiny streams of opinion. Might I not array against you the whole series of ancient writers? Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr, and many other apostlolic and eloquent men, who against Ebion, Theodotus of Byzantium, and Valentinus, held these same views, and wrote volumes full of wisdom. If you read what they wrote, you would be a wiser man. But I think it better to reply briefly to each point that to linger any longer and extend my book to an undue length.” #19

“We believe that God was born of the Virgin, because we read it. That Mary was married after she brought forth, we do not believe, because we do not read it. Nor do we say this to condemn marriage, for virginity itself is the fruit of marriage; but because when we are dealing with saints we must not judge rashly. If we adopt possibility as the standard of judgment, we might maintain that Joseph had several wives because Abraham had, and so had Jacob, and that the Lord’s brothers were the issue of those wives, an invention that some hold with a rashness that springs from audacity, not piety. You say that Mary did not continue a virgin: I claim still more that Joseph himself, on account of Mary, was a virgin, so that from a virgin wedlock a virgin son was born. #21

“Some quite emphatically understand this closed gate through which only the Lord God of Israel passes … as the Virgin Mary, who remains a Virgin before and after childbirth. In fact, she remains always a Virgin, in the moment in which the Angel speaks with her and when the Son of God is born.”

5. Ambrose of Milan, in A.D. 390 says, “Who is this gate (Ezekiel 44:1-4), if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity.”

6. Augustine of Hippo in A.D. 401 said, “Thus Christ, being born of a Virgin who, before she knew who was to be born of her, had determined to continue a Virgin, chose to approve, rather than to command, holy virginity. And thus, even in the female herself, in whom he took the form of a servant, he willed that virginity should be free.” [Holy Virginity 4:4]

In A.D. 430, Augustine says, “It is written (Ezekiel 44, 2): ‘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…’ 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.”

7. Leporius in A.D. 426 said, “We confess, therefore, that our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, born of the Father before the ages, and in times most recent, made man of the Holy Spirit and the Ever-Virgin Mary. [Document of Amendment 3]

8. Pope Leo I in A.D. 450 said “The origin is different but the nature alike: not by intercourse with man but by the power of God was it brought about: for a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and a Virgin she remained. [Sermons 22:2]

9. Council of Constantinople II in A.D. 553 stated, “If anyone will not confess that the Word of God . . . Came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God and Ever Virgin, and was born from her, let him be anathema.”

“Yes, but I’m Protestant, I don’t believe those guys.”

10. In 1523 Martin Luther said, “When Matthew [1:25] says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her . . . This babble . . . is without justification . . . he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom. (Luther’s Works, vol. 45:212-213 / That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew”)

Later in 1539, Luther said, “Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. (Luther’s Works, vol. 22:214-15 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4)

11. John Calvin, also had a great deal to say on the matter. In his Commentary on Matt 1:25, he said, “The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband . . . No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words . . . as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called “first-born”; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin . . . What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us . . . No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.”

In that same work, he expounds saying, “This passage afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ.”

In his commentary on John, Calvin says, “Under the word ‘brethren’ the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity.”

12. Heinrich Bullinger [d. 1575] said, “’The Virgin Mary . . . completely sanctified by the grace and blood of her only Son and abundantly endowed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and preferred to all … now lives happily with Christ in heaven and is called and remains ever-Virgin and Mother of God.”

13. In 1749, John Wesley – founder of my former tradition – in his Letter to a Roman Catholic said, “I believe that He was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.”

At the very least, we see ambiguity in scripture on the matter, and a very strong historical interpretation of those verses favoring the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, starting very early on, and continuing well into the founding of the Protestant church.

What about other Marian Doctrines?

The other two Dogmas we’ll save for another day.

The third (The immaculate Conception of Mary) is what started this whole conversation off.

And if we covered the fourth (the Assumption of Mary) tonight, what would you have to look forward to?

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One thought on “There’s Something About Mary.”

  1. Absolutely awesome article, Tim. I had not considered the implications of Jesus giving his mother to John from Hebrew cultural standpoint. You are right on with the breach of societal expectation and ethic if Mary, in fact, had surviving natural children. I will use that in the future in “Perpetual Virginity ” apologetics.

    Keep up the sensational work my friend and brother,
    Mark

    Oh, and a Blessed Christmas to you and yours.

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