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Perpetual virginity of Mary

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The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, a dogma of the Roman Catholic[1] Church, and also of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy, which in their liturgy repeatedly refer to Mary as "ever virgin",[2] affirms Mary's "real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made Man." Thus, according to this Church dogma, Mary was ever-virgin (Greek ἀειπάρθενος, aeiparthenos) for the whole of her life, making Jesus her only biological son, whose conception and birth are held to be miraculous.

The dogma of Perpetual Virginity of Mary, states that Mary was a virgin before, during and after giving birth, and so covers much more than the doctrine of her virginal conception of Jesus, often referred to as the virgin birth of Jesus, and is believed as De fide, i.e. Divine revelation of the highest degree of certainty.

This common tradition of the perpetual virginity of Mary is one element in the well-established theology regarding the Theotokos in both East and West, a field of study known as Mariology.

Artistic representation of Mary's virginity even after giving birth to Jesus
Artistic representation of Mary's virginity even after giving birth to Jesus

The virginity of Mary at the time of her conception of Jesus is a key topic in Roman Catholic Marian art, 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.[3] Mary's virginity even after her conception of Jesus is regularly represented in the art of both the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy (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

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Antiquity


A series of articles on
Roman Catholic
Mariology

General articles
Overview of MariologyVeneration of the Blessed VirginHistory of MariologyMariology of the saintsMariology of the popesEncyclicals & Apostolic LettersMarian Movements & Societies

Devotions
RosaryImmaculate Heart7 SorrowsActs of Reparation

Dogmas and Doctrines

DoctrinesMother of GodPerpetual virginityImmaculate ConceptionAssumptionMother of the ChurchMediatrixCo-Redemptrix

Expressions of devotion
ArtMusicArchitecture

Key Marian apparitions
(approved or worthy of belief)
GuadalupeMiraculous Medal
La SaletteLourdesPontmainLausBanneuxBeauraingFátimaAkita

The second-century work originally known as the Nativity of Mary,[4] but later known as the Protoevangelium of James, pays special attention to Mary’s virginity. In the opinion of Johannes Quasten, “The principal aim of the whole writing is to prove the perpetual and inviolate virginity of Mary before, during, and after to birth of Christ.[5] In the text, a test confirms Mary’s virginity before birth, and the absence of labour pains, and a midwife’s examination, demonstrates Mary’s virginity during birth.[6] The work also claims that Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters"[7] are Joseph’s children from a marriage previous to his union with Mary.[8] It asserts 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).[9] This may correlate to the Bible's presentation that women devoted to perpetual service at the temple was a centuries-old practice contemporary to Mary's lifetime.[10] This text does not explicitly assert Mary's perpetual virginity after the birth of Jesus. But another book, "The History of Joseph the Carpenter", presents Jesus as speaking, at the death of Joseph, of Mary as "my mother, virgin undefiled".

Origen, in his Commentary on Matthew (c. 248), expressly states belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity. In the words of Luigi Gambero, “Origen not only has no doubts but seems directly to imply that this is a truth already recognised as an integral part of the deposit of faith.”[11] In this context, Origen interpreted the comments of Ignatius of Antioch (d. c 108) as significant:

On this subject, I have found a fine observation in a letter of the martyr Ignatius, second bishop of Antioch after Peter,[12] who fought with the wild beasts during the persecution in Rome. Mary’s virginity was hidden from the prince of this world, hidden thanks to Joseph and her marriage to him. Her virginity was kept hidden because she was thought to be married. [13]

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By the fourth century, the doctrine is well attested.[14] For example, references can be found in the writings of Athanasius,[15] Epiphanius,[16] Hilary,[17] Didymus,[18] Ambrose,[19] Jerome,[20] Siricius,[21] and others.

However, Tertullian (155-220), while holding that Mary conceived Jesus as a virgin, denied that her virginity was preserved in his birth, thus emphasizing the reality of her son's body,[22] and the unorthodox monk Jovinian (who died in about 405), who denied that virginity as such was a higher state than marriage, and that abstinence as such was better than thankful eating, also denied the perpetual virginity of Mary and was condemned by synods at Rome and Milan.[23] These views were shared by his contemporary Helvidius, but were not repeated in the following centuries

Protestantism

From the fifth century on no opposition whatever to the doctrine was expressed in either East or West. Several leaders of the Protestant Reformation believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Martin Luther believed that Mary did not have other children, and did not have any marital relations with Joseph,[24] maintaining, that the brothers mentioned were cousins.[25] This is consistent with his lifelong acceptance of the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Jaroslav Pelikan noted that the perpetual virginity of Mary was Luther's lifelong belief,[26] and Hartmann Grisar, a Roman Catholic biographer of Luther, concurs that "Luther always believed in the virginity of Mary, even after his excommunication, though afterwards he denied her power of intercession, as well as that of the saints in general, ... and combated, as extreme and pagan, the extraordinary veneration which the [Roman] Catholic Church showed towards Mary."[27] For this reason even a rigorously conservative Lutheran scholar like Franz Pieper (1852-1931) refuses 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.[28]

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".[29] 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".[30] In fact Luther held throughout his career that, "in childbirth and after childbirth, as she was a virgin before childbirth, so she remained".[31]

Huldrych Zwingli wrote: "I firmly believe that [Mary], according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin." [32]

John Calvin rejected arguments, based on the mention in Scripture of brothers of Jesus, that Mary had other children.[33]

John Wesley wrote: "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."[34]

Diarmaid MacCulloch, a historian of the Reformation, wrote that the reason why the magisterial reformers upheld Mary’s perpetual virginity, and why they had a "genuinely deep reverence and affection" toward Mary, 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.[35] 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[36] and the rejection of clerical celibacy[37] led to the eventual denial of this doctrine amongst Protestants, who consider that the "brothers" (ἀδελφοί) οf Jesus mentioned in the New Testament were children of Mary (and thus his half brothers), rather than of Joseph by another marriage (and thus his stepbrothers) or his cousins, a view not shared by the magisterial Protestant reformers themselves

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Biblical passages and their interpretations

The Annunciation, by Caravaggio. "How can this be, for I know not man?"
The Annunciation, by Caravaggio. "How can this be, for I know not man?"

Mary's virginity before and in regard to her conception of Jesus is stated in the Gospels of Matthew[38] and Luke.[39] It is disputed whether elements in the New Testament favour or contradict belief that she remained a virgin afterwards.

With regard to the identification of the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament,[40] the 1978 book Mary in the New Testament: A Collaborative Assessment by Protestant and Roman Catholic Scholars[41] reached the following agreed

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