30 December 2010


EVERVIRGIN has been a title of our Lady from the earliest days; it appears, albeit obiter, in the documents of councils from Chalcedon onwards. It still appears (confiteor; Communicantes) in the Novus Ordo Mass; was rather more frequent in the Classical Roman Rite; and comes very often in the Byzantine Rite. It is part of the Church's Marian dogma, and was treated respectfully, if rather evasively, by the ARCIC document on Mary. Non-Catholics sneer at it. The great Tom Wright is dismissive. Let us consider the question in the form of a Socratic Dialogue.

The Gospels make it quite clear that Jesus had brothers.
They don't. Adelphoi can mean kinsmen. It doesn't have to mean uterine (that is, born-of-the-same-womb) brothers.
So you say. But that's the obvious meaning if anyone talks about "Jesus' brothers" in any language, isn't it? Not at all. Mark's and Matthew's Gospels, in their accounts of the Crucifixion, both talk about "Mary the mother of James and Joses [or Joseph]". If this Mary had been the same as Christ's own mother, it would have been very odd for them not to refer to her as the Mother of Jesus. The "obvious" and natural inference is that the "Mother of James and Joses" was a different Mary from "Mary the Mother of Jesus".
So what?
Well, in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55, the places where those "brothers of Jesus" are mentioned, the full text reads: " Jesus the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses [or Joseph] and Judas and Simon". We've just seen that this James and this Joses are apparently the sons of some Mary who was not the same as Mary the Mother of Jesus. And they're the first two on the list here. The list is thus clearly not itemising individuals who were uterine brothers of Jesus.
Well, I still think it's obvious that ...
If it's so "obvious", you've got some explaining to do. Throughout the second century the Gospels were increasingly regarded as 'canonical' and authoritative. If it is so "obvious" that James and the rest of those listed in the Gospels were uterine brothers of Jesus, then the tradition that Jesus was Mary's only child must have arisen well before those Gospels came to be regarded as authorities. Otherwise, when somebody started saying "she never had any more children", somebody who had read the Gospels would have said "Aha, you're wrong: here's a list of his brothers". So, if you're right about it being so "obvious", you're going to have to admit that Mary's perpetual virginity is so early a tradition as to predate the acquisition of authority by our Four Gospels; which modern scholarship dates to the beginning of the second century at the latest. I've got you either way.
That's all gobbledegook. It's obvious ...
That's the problem with you Prods and you Liberals. You're impervious to evidence and to reason.
Of course we are. "Reason is the Devil's Whore". Martin Luther said so. It's obvious.


Patricius said...

Brilliant father!

B flat said...

The tradition in Jerusalem, and throughout the Orthodox Church, is that these were truly "brothers" of Jesus as they were children of the widower Joseph who betrothed his kinswoman Mary and took her under his protection in marriage. This seems at least as obvious an explanation of the information we have from the Gospels as the Protestant denial of the perpetual Virginity of the Deipara, and is quite consistent with Tradition. If it is true in Law, then it is for all practical purposes a fact. Genetic testing to establish the natural relationship of Jesus and His brother James, would have been irrelevant during their life, and is a wildly aberrant anachronism.

Of course, this year the BBC portrays Joseph as young as Mary, but the author of their "Nativity", Tony Jordan, constructed the couple as having "modern attitudes," although he claims to believe in "the Immaculate Conception"(!) himself.

Neill said...

Boys brought up together in the same household in an extended family set-up in Pakistan today include their cousins when they talk about "my brothers". This is common even amongst westernised, educated, English-speaking, internet-trawling Pakistanis. It would seem to be a general feature of traditional society.

motuproprio said...

Indeed, it is not so much a question of Protestant versus Catholic, for such founding fathers of Protestantism as Luther and Calvin were explicit and clear in their views.

Thus, Martin Luther on Mary's Perpetual Virginity:
“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. “
{Luther's Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539) }

“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. “{ibid }

“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 . . . “
{ That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523) }

“Scripture does not say or indicate that she later lost her virginity . . . 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.
{ ibid }

And we also have John Calvin on Mary's Perpetual Virginity:

“There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage (Mt 1:25) that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company…And besides this our Lord Jesus Christ is called the firstborn. This is not because there was a second or third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or no there was any question of the second.” {Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25 (1562)}

Rather we are talking about 'the assured results of modern biblical scholarship', which takes the whole Christian faith 'to Hull in a handcart'.

motuproprio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
motuproprio said...
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motuproprio said...

Inadvertant duplicate postings removed!

Maureen Lash said...

Latin tradition has always understood the four 'adelphoi' mentioned to be first cousins of our Lord. A lot of the mystery is solved by reading Alphaeus and Clopas as one and the same individual, a brother of Joseph. As well as four sons, Mr and Mrs Clopas had two daughters, Mary ("the other Mary") and Salome, married to Zebedee, and mother of James and John. Simple really.

But can Father explain the discrepancy between the Lucan and Matthaean genealogies?

John said...

Two things.

First, I believe the first conciliar confession of semper virgo occurred at Constantinople II in 553. Closer research would show, I believe, that Chalcedon was silent on the point.

Secondly, I'm glad a commenter has just offered copious Luther quotations in favour of semper virgo. Luther, the Lutheran Confessions, and the classical Lutheran tradition are unanimous on this point.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thank you, Father, for your interesting blog. I am glad to have found it. Your dialogue could be taken much further, of course, but it does cover nicely some of the main points that perennially arise.

"Motuproprio" rightly brings a needed corrective to the conversation. To reject the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is neither Lutheran nor Protestant. Rather, it is to enslave oneself to assumptions that came into vogue with the advent of the Enlightenment. Such enslavement, even in the form of departing from the ancient view of Mary's ever-virginity, is today a cross-denominational problem, subsisting indeed even within the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran communions. (See, eg., the theology departments at any number of Catholic schools in America, such as Marquette here in Milwaukee.)

As a traditionalist Lutheran, I stand with Luther, and the Lutheran Symbols, which stand firmly with the Church Catholic. Some Luther citations have already been brought up here. More could be cited (such as his Christmas sermons, or his comments on the Ave Maria). But let me instead point to what the Lutheran Confessions say. In the official Latin version of the Book of Concord we confess this:

"Filius ita factus est homo, ut a Spiritu Sancto sinc virili opera conciperetur, et ex Maria, pura, sancta sempervirgine nasceretur."
(Smalcald Articles, First Part: Article IV)
Bente translation of 1921:
That the Son became man in this manner, that He was conceived, without the cooperation of man, by the Holy Ghost, and was born of the pure, holy, and always Virgin Mary.

And in Article VIII of the Formula of Concord, penned by Chemnitz and his colleagues about three decades after Luther's departure from this life, we confess this:

"On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed Virgin, bore not a mere man, but, as the angel Gabriel testifies, such a man as is truly the Son of the most high God, who showed His divine majesty even in His mother's womb, inasmuch as He was born of a virgin, with her virginity inviolate. Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin."

This passage, I hasten to add, teaches at once both the perpetual virginity of Mary and the fact that even in His own birth, our Lord kept His mother's womb from being opened. This is the Lutheran and Catholic doctrine that Christ was truly born, yet in clauso utero, preserving His mother from pain and bloodshed. It is comparable to His true yet miraculous entry into the closed room after the resurrection.

Regarding the place of reason in Luther's thought, any true reading of Luther's works and theology bears out the high esteem he placed in reason. It is one of God's great gifts. It must, however, be a good and faithful servant of theology, rather than presuming to be lord over theology. In the latter case, which happens too often in modern scholarship, reason is made the devil's wicked mistress. Reason is far from eliminated in Lutheran thought; rather, the concern is that the proper priority and relationship between reason and faith is maintained, a concern nicely summed up in Anselm's saying, Fides quarens intellectum.

Anonymous said...

I think the behaviour of the "brothers" in Mark is significant. Since it is agreed that our Lord was the first-born of Mary, he would have been head of the household after the death of Joseph. The apparently disrespectful attitude of the siblings ("He is out of his mind" etc.) seems out of keeping with their being younger than Jesus. I incline to the view that, after the early death of Joseph, some time after our Lord's eleventh birthday, Mary and her son were taken in by Joseph's brother (Clopas or Alphaeus) and his wife, another Mary, who had sons James, Joses etc. Mary and Jesus, as "poor relations" dependent upon the generosity of in-laws, might well have been patronised in just the way I think the Gospel suggests.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Notwithstanding the phony exegesis like the "until" argument, or the misguidedly narrow view of adelphoi, the scriptures actually have much to say on this question, even if not in the form of an explicit statement which modern man seeks in his desire for everything to be neat, tidy, and systematic. Personally, I think one of the strongest and underappreciated texts is Ezekiel's 44th chapter. I know of no way to read this without seeing the temple as a type of the Virgin Mary, whose womb shall not be opened, for it is for the Prince only.

B flat said...

What is the basis of the view to which fieldofdreams2010 inclines? Is the Orthodox tradition I posted so negligible that speculation is preferred? The Jerusalem tradition covers all the Scriptural data as far as I am aware, and transmits the understanding of the Mother of God fully, faithfully, and clearly as far as has been possible for the human mind to comprehend.

Maureen Lash said...

The basis is the Western Latin tradition, B flat, which both Augustine and Jerome (he a sometime resident of Jerusalem too) follow. Augustine gives a number of examples from the Old Testament, to support this tradition, where "adelphos" is used to mean cousin or kinsman rather than brother. It is not the Greek use of the word, he admits, but is a common Semitic usage - as I believe it remains today.

Sch├╝tz said...

Personally, I have always found the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple when he was 12 years old to be significant. Absolutely nothing in this story would indicate that Mary and Joseph had any other children.

Gengulphus said...

Fr H said: EVERVIRGIN has been a title of our Lady from the earliest days; it appears, albeit obiter, in the documents of councils from Chalcedon onwards.

John said: Closer research would show, I believe, that Chalcedon was silent on the point.

But as Fr H. rightly says the matter was touched on 'obiter'.

The Tome of St Leo said: quia missus ad beatam Mariam simper virginem angelus ait…

After the reading of the foregoing epistle, the most reverend bishops cried out:  This is the faith of the fathers… Peter has spoken thus through Leo.

Gengulphus said...

Sorry about the typo, evidently some subconscious train of thought…

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Yes, Schuetz; and that pericope brings out beautifully the pre-modern sense of how an extended family operates: if a modern English nuclear couple (so to speak!) went several days without bothering where their twelve year old was, Social Services would descend on them. The pericope illustrates the background in a society where 'brethren' would have a broader application.

Sir Watkin said...

the pre-modern sense of how an extended family operates

Quite, and we shouldn't forget that the "family" extends to include, not only relations (both by blood and adoption) and connexions by marriage, but also servants, and (in the time and place we are considering) and slaves.

I have sometimes wondered whether S. Joseph was a slave-owner.

Anonymous said...

I would not wish to disrespect the "Jerusalem tradition" of which B flat writes: it certainly fits the facts. However, I would be interested to know when this tradition is first recorded, and in what terms? It is consistent with Scripture, but not entailed by it. It could be as speculative as my own suggestion.

The Raven (C. Corax) said...

I understand that the tradition that the adelphoi were children of S Joseph's first marriage comes from the Protoevangellion of James, which, I am told, had a wide circulation in the east, but was banned in the Latin west