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Perpetual virginity

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Title: Perpetual virginity  
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Subject: Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Mariology
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Perpetual virginity

The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary expresses the Virgin Mary's "real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to Jesus the Son of God made Man".[2][3] According to the doctrine, Mary was ever-virgin (Template:Lang-grc-gre) for the whole of her life, making Jesus her only biological son, whose conception and birth are held to be miraculous.[2][3]

By the fourth century, the doctrine was widely supported by the Church Fathers, and by the seventh century it had been affirmed in a number of ecumenical councils.[4][5][6] The doctrine is part of the teaching of Catholicism and Anglo-Catholics, as well as Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, as expressed in their liturgies, in which they repeatedly refer to Mary as "ever virgin".[7][8][9]

Some early Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther supported the doctrine, and founding figures of Anglicanism such as Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer "followed the tradition that they had inherited by accepting Mary as 'ever virgin'" [10] However, later Reformed teaching largely abandoned it.[11][12] The doctrine of perpetual virginity is, however, currently maintained by some Anglican and Lutheran theologians.[7][13][14][15]

Doctrine and representations

The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, which is believed de fide (i.e. held by Catholics as being an essential part of faith), states that Mary was a virgin before, during and after giving birth for all her life.[2][3][16] The threefold nature this doctrine (referring to before, during and after) thus subsumes the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus.[2][3][16]

The doctrine of perpetual virginity is also distinct from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which relates to the conception of the Virgin Mary herself without any stain (macula in Latin) of original sin.[17]

The Greek term Aeiparthenos (i.e. "Ever Virgin") is attested to by Epiphanius of Salamis from the early 4th century.[18] It is widely used in the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church.[19] The Catechism of the Catholic Church (item 499) also includes to the term Aeiparthenos and referring to the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium (item 57) states: "Christ's birth did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it."[20][21][22] The doctrine of perpetual virginity is also held by some Anglican and some Lutheran churches, but not all of those churches endorse the doctrine.[7] Eastern Orthodox liturgical prayers typically end with "Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary".[23]

The virginity of Mary at the time of her conception of Jesus is a key topic in Marian art in the Catholic Church, usually represented as the annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel that she would virginally conceive a child to be born the Son of God. Frescos depicting this scene have appeared in Roman Catholic Marian churches for centuries.[24] The oldest fresco of the annunciation is a 4th-century depiction in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome.[25]

Mary's virginity even after her conception of Jesus is regularly represented in the Christian art of both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox (as well as in early Western religious art) by including in Nativity scenes the figure of Salome, whom the Gospel of James presents as finding that Mary had preserved her virginity even in giving birth to her son.[26][27] In many icons, Mary's perpetual virginity is signified by three stars that appear on her left, her right, and above her or on her head, which represent her virginity before, during and after giving birth.[28][29]

Development of the doctrine

Early Church

As of the second century, interest developed within the early Church regarding the conception of Jesus and the virginity of Mary.[30] The majority of early Christian writers accepted the virginal conception of Jesus via reliance on the accounts in the gospels of Luke and Matthew, yet, the focus of these early discussions was of virginity before birth, not during or afterwards.[30][31]

The interpretation of the Matthew 1:25 statement that Joseph "knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son" and of the various New Testament mentions of the brothers (and sisters) of Jesus is discussed below under the heading "Scripture". Some early writers, Tertullian, Helvidius and Eunomius of Cyzicus, interpreted Matthew's statement to mean that Joseph and Mary did have normal marital relations after Jesus' birth, and that James, Joses, Jude, and Simon were the biological sons of Mary and Joseph, a view held by Helvidius and Eunomius.[32]

A second-century document that paid special attention to Mary’s virginity was originally known as the Nativity of Mary, but later became known as the Protoevangelium of James.[3][33] The document tells of Mary’s virginity before giving birth, the miraculous way in which she gave birth, and her physical virginity even after giving birth.[34][35][36] The work also claims that Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters"[37] are Joseph’s children from a marriage previous to his union with Mary.[38] However, this text does not explicitly assert Mary's perpetual virginity after the birth of Jesus.

The "brothers" and "sisters" of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels, and the "James, the Lord's brother", mentioned in were thus interpreted by some texts as not being children of Mary.

There was no full consensus on the doctrine of perpetual virginity within the early Church by the end of the second century, e.g. Tertullian (c.160 – c.225) did not teach the doctrine (although he taught virgin birth), but Irenaeus (c.130 – c.202) taught perpetual virginity, along with other Marian themes.[31] However, wider support for the doctrine began to appear within the next century.[31]

Origen (185-254) was emphatic on the issue of the brothers of Jesus, and stated that he believed them to have been the children of Joseph from a previous marriage.[40]

Helvidius appealed to the authority of Tertullian against the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity, to which Jerome (c.340-419) replied that Tertullian was "not a man of the church."[41]

By the 4th century, the doctrine of perpetual virginity had been well attested.[42] For example, references can be found in the 3rd century writings of Hippolytus of Rome, who called Mary "the tabernacle exempt from defilement and corruption," [43] and the 4th century works of Athanasius,[44] Epiphanius,[45] Hilary,[46] Didymus,[47] Ambrose,[48] Jerome,[49] and Siricius[50] continued the attestations to perpetual virginity  – a trend that gathered pace in the next century.[4][5]

Church Fathers and the Middle Ages

By the time of

The concept of Mary's vow of virginity had already appeared in the Protoevangelium (4:1) which asserted that Mary's mother, Anne, gave Mary as a "virgin of the Lord" in service in the Temple, and that Joseph, a widower, was to serve as her guardian (legal protections for women depended on their having a male protector: father, brother, or, failing that, a husband).[57] Early in the 7th century, in the Short Book on the Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary Isidore of Seville connected the Mariological and Christological themes by linking the virginity of Mary to the divinity of Christ in a single line of argument.[58] The Lateran Council of 649, attended by Maximus the Confessor, explicitly affirmed the teaching of Mary's virginity before, during and after birth.[31] This was further affirmed at the sixth ecumenical council in 680.[4]

Another book, "The History of Joseph the Carpenter" (7th Century), presents Jesus as speaking, at the death of Joseph, of Mary as "my mother, virgin undefiled".[59]

Over the centuries the interpretation of Mary as an ever virgin bride of the Lord who had taken a vow of perpetual chastity spread and was in full vogue by the time of Rupert of Deutz in the 12th century.[6] By the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas had fashioned long and detailed theological arguments in defense of the doctrine and stated that a denial of the perpetual virginity of Mary would be derogatory to the perfection of Christ, an insult to the Holy Spirit, and an affront to the dignity of the Mother of God.[60][61]

Mary, the Second Eve

As of the fourth century, in discussing God's plan of salvation, a parallel theme began to appear in which Mary's obedience (be it unto me according to thy word in

The concept of Mary as the Second Eve was first introduced by Justin Martyr around 155 AD.[62] In this perspective, which was discussed in detail by Irenaeus, supported by Jerome, and then grew further, the vow of obedience and virginity of Mary positioned her as the "Second Eve" as part of the plan of salvation, just as Jesus was positioned as the Second Adam.[6][31]

The theme developed by the Church Fathers ran parallel to the theme developed by Apostle Paul in

The Second Eve teaching continued to grew among Catholics, and in discussing perpetual virginity, the 1566 Catechism of the Council of Trent explicitly taught that while Eve by believing the serpent brought malediction on the human race, Mary by believing the angel brought benediction to mankind.[65][43]

The concept of the Second Eve has continued to remain part of Catholic teachings, e.g. Pope Pius XII referred to it in the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi and Pope John Paul II referred to it in a General Audience at the Vatican in 1980.[66][67]

Protestant Reformation

The start of the Protestant Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century did not immediately bring about a rejection of the doctrine of perpetual virginity and several leaders of the Reformation provided varying degrees of support for it, at times without directly endorsing it.[68][69]

The early Protestant reformers felt that Scripture required the acceptance of the virgin birth of Jesus, but only permitted the acceptance of perpetual virginity.[70] Over time, many Protestant churches stopped teaching the doctrine and other Protestant churches denied it.[11][12]

Early reformers

Martin Luther believed that Mary did not have other children and did not have any marital relations with Joseph. The Latin text of the 1537 Smalcald Articles, written by Martin Luther, used the term "Ever Virgin" to refer to Mary.[68] The perpetual virginity of Mary was Luther's lifelong belief, even after he rejected other Marian doctrines.[68][71][72]

Huldrych Zwingli directly supported perpetual virginity and wrote: "I firmly believe that [Mary], ... forever remained a pure, intact Virgin."[73] Like Zwingli, the English reformers also supported the concept of perpetual virginity, but often varied on their reasons for the support.[69] Luther and Zwingli's support of perpetual virginity was endorsed by Heinrich Bullinger and was included in the 1566 Second Helvetic Confession.[74]

John Calvin "was less clear-cut than Luther on Mary's perpetual virginity but undoubtedly favored it".[69] He cautioned against "impious speculation" on the topic.[74] In his commentary of Luke 1:34, he rejected as "unfounded and altogether absurd" the idea that Mary had made a vow of perpetual virginity, saying that "She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage; which could not have been done without mockery of God" and adding that there is no evidence of the existence of such vows at the time.[75] He rejected the argument based on the mention in Scripture of brothers of Jesus that Mary had other children.[76]

The Anglican reformers of the 16th and 17th century supported perpetual virginity "on the basis of ancient Christian authority".[68] In the 18th century, John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, also supported the doctrine and wrote that: "... born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin."[68][77][78]

Later Protestant teachings

Many current Protestant churches teach the virgin birth of Jesus, without teaching that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life.[11][12]

Diarmaid MacCulloch, a historian of the Reformation, wrote that the reason why the early reformers upheld Mary’s perpetual virginity was that she was "the guarantee of the Incarnation of Christ", a teaching that was being denied by the same radicals that were denying Mary’s perpetual virginity.[79] However, the absence of clear Biblical statements expressing the doctrine, in combination with the principle of sola scriptura, kept references to the doctrine out of the Reformation creeds and, together with the tendency to associate veneration of Mary with idolatry[80] and the rejection of clerical celibacy,[81] led to the eventual denial of this doctrine among Protestants, who took the "brothers" (ἀδελφοί) οf Jesus mentioned in the New Testament to be most naturally (but not certainly) children of Mary and thus Jesus' half brothers or left the question open.[82]

However, some conservative Lutheran scholars such as Franz Pieper (1852–1931) refused to follow the tendency among Protestants to insist that Mary and Joseph had marital relations and children after the birth of Jesus. It is implicit in his Christian Dogmatics that belief in Mary's perpetual virginity is the older and traditional view among Lutherans.[83] He stated, that "we should simply hold that (Mary) remained a virgin after the birth of Christ because Scripture does not state or indicate that she later lost her virginity".[84] He taught that "Christ, our Saviour, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that"; and that " 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".[85] Against this view Taylor points out that if they were actually cousins the word 'adelphoi' (brothers), was unnecessary linguistically, because the word 'anepsios' (cousin, as in eg Col 4:10) lay "lay ready to hand", and inappropriate metaphorically, because they were opposed to Jesus' ministry.[86]



In relation to Mark 6:3 Jerome, "apparently voicing the general opinion of the Church" about the perpetual virginity of Mary in opposition to the view put forward in about 382 by Helvidius that they were children of Joseph and Mary,[87] proposed that they were cousins of Jesus, the sons of Mary the wife of Clopas and sister of the Virgin. This new view, "strongly coloured by [Jerome's] belief in the perpetual virginity, [is] almost universally rejected except by Roman Catholic scholars".[90] The view with most support in the Fathers, and with some support in modern writers such as Lightfoot, is that of Epiphanius: they were children of Joseph by an earlier marriage, the view generally accepted among Eastern Christians.[87] A more recent hypothesis is that they were children of Cleopas, a brother of Joseph according to Hegesippus, and of "Mary, the mother of James and Joses" seen as sister-in-law, not blood sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus.[87] Helvidius' view, that they were the children of Joseph and Mary, is supported, according to Taylor, by at least some of the Fathers, albeit to a lesser degree than that of Epiphanius, and by "many moderns scholars": this view is also "the simplest and most natural" one according to Taylor.[90]

In relation to 1 Cor 9:5, the "most natural interpretation is that [the un-named "brothers of the Lord"] were the children of Joseph and Mary" says Leon Morris.[91] C K Barrett agrees, arguing that this passage is "most naturally taken to refer to sons of Mary and Joseph", however he allows that they are "conceivably ... sons of Joseph by a former wife".[92]

A passage used to support the doctrine of perpetual virginity is of the

Islamic perspective

In Sura 19,[106] the Qur'an declares that Jesus was the result of a virgin conception (verses 20-22). There is no clear doctrinal belief one way or another, but some extend this to mean the perpetual virginity of Mary.[107][108][109][110][111]

See also

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