21 September 2018


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.

Haereticus: The Gospels make it quite clear that Jesus had brothers.
Catholicus: 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.


Calvin Engime said...

Richard Bauckham, in an October 1994 article in Catholic Biblical Quarterly, makes the interesting point that the fact that Jesus is called "the son of Mary" by the people of Nazareth instead of "the son of Joseph" would be well explained if they know Joseph to have children by a prior wife or wives. These people may be called brothers and sisters of Jesus, but they are never said to be children of Mary!

Marco da Vinha said...

While I know it is common to explain that Our Lord's "brethren" were kinsmen, I like to believe the unpopular pious belief that they were an elderly St. Joseph's children from a previous marriage.

William Tighe said...

Decades ago a friend - it may have been Fr. John Saward, then a Catholic layman - recommended to me on this subject The Mother of Jesus in the New Testament by the late John McHugh (London, 1975: Darton, Longman & Todd). In his day, Fr. McHugh taught at Ushaw and was also Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Durham. I had already stumbled upon his then newly-published On Englishing the Liturgy: An Open Letter to the Bishop of Shrewsbury which its author had privately published in 1983 and which was a first body-blow against the then ICEL "translation" of the early 1970s.

In that large book of 510 pages Fr. McHugh devoted four chapters to the "Brothers of Jesus." The first deals with "the Helvidian view," that the brothers (and sisters) were children born to Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus; the second, with what he terms "the Epiphanian Theory," that they were children born to St. Joseph by a previous marriage; the third, with "St. Jerome's Theory," that they were Our Lord's cousins; and in the fourth ("Conclusion") he gives his own view.

His own view is that there are insuperable difficulties with all three theories, and especially with St. Jerome's. In the end he concludes that seeing them as "foster children" of Joseph and Mary makes the best sense of all the data. He suggests that all the brethren - and the sisters, of whose number and names we are ignorant - were younger in age then Jesus. His theory is that two of the brothers, James and Joses, were sons of a sister of St. Joseph named Mary and an unnamed deceased husband, and that Simeon (who succeeded St. James as Bishop of Jerusalem) was the son of Clopas, a brother of St. Joseph and his wife, another Mary. His arguments are intricate as well as detailed, but are well worth perusing and pondering.