Archive for the ‘Perpetual Virginity’ Category

Joseph – Widower with Older Children? Nieces and Nephews?

December 7, 2011

A friend of mine pointed me to an interesting exchange of the blind leading the blind over at the “Catholic Answers” forums.

A first poster (“Glomung”) wrote:

A very simple explanation for the whole scenario is that Joseph was a widower, who already had several children. This explains Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Joseph happened to be the only bachelor in town, so when Mary came of age, the local Rabbi pushed Joseph to marry her, [Joseph] was not too thrilled with the idea (been there/done that, don’t need another mouth to feed) explains Josephs’ reluctance. Also when she turns up pregnant Joseph is not overly irked (she’s just a kid, you know how they get into mischief). He doesn’t take all of it too seriously until the angel has a chat with him.

He never has sex with her because of “pick one”, too old, not interested, she’s God’s gal, like a daughter, whatever the reason that explains the “ever virgin”. That is also why he is not present in any of the rest of Jesus’ life, he has died of old age.

Then, a second poster (“ConstantineTG”) replied:

He wan’t the only bachelor in town. The priests of the temple wanted had to remove Mary from the temple because she was of age, and the concern is that women of age may lose their virginity which then would defile the temple. But they wished to preserve the virginity of the temple virgins so they sought older widowers who have no interest in having children (and probably have no ability to do so anyway) to take her as a wife (but in reality be more of a guardian). So they called all the old widowers in town to the temple, and the Holy Spirit showed the priests a sign that Joseph is the chosen one (a dove landed on Joseph). And thus Mary was betrothed to Joseph.

Joseph was indeed irked that Mary was pregnant because of the trouble it would bring to him. After reading the Protoevangelium of James, Joseph’s reactions and emotions in the Gospels made sense to me. Also it seems that Joseph handled the situation more maturely. A younger man would have made a big fuss of the issue and ratted Mary out to the pharisees who would have stoned her to death. Joseph seemed to proceed cautiously even though he was distraught by the events.

As to Glomung’s comments, nowhere in Scripture is Joseph described as widower.  There is no reliable basis upon which to assert that Josephus was a widower. Likewise, there is no mention of Joseph having any prior children.

There is a good reason to think Joseph didn’t have other children from a previous marriage.  Recall that in both the flight to Egypt and the return from Egypt, only Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are mentioned: there is no mention of step-siblings coming along.

Matthew 2:13-23

And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.” And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

As for whether Joseph was irked, he was ready to divorce her, as it is written:

Matthew 1:18-19

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

Joseph was not willing to overlook the assumed adultery.  Instead, he wanted to divorce Mary, although he wanted to do so quietly.

As for Joseph’s age, there is no indication that he was particularly old.

As for being in Jesus’ life, Joseph was in Jesus’ life at least until he was 12:

Luke 2:41-52

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”

And he said unto them, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”

And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Moreover, recall that during Jesus’ ministry, people knew of Joseph and of his occupation:

Matthew 13:55-56

Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?

Turning to CTG’s comments, whatever makes him think Mary was in the temple?  The Scriptures do not say this, nor is there any reliable evidence she was.  There was no divine appointment for there to be “temple virgins” and virginity was not prized over matrimony in Jewish times.

You will notice to the reference to the Protoevangelium of James.  This is a thoroughly worthless and unreliable source, which was rightly rejected by Christians from the patristic era through the medieval era (as I have previously documented).  Even if it had not been traditionally rejected, consider that it’s account in sections 13 and 14 (here is a copy of the text) contradicts the Scriptural account of Joseph’s reaction to discovering Mary’s pregnancy.  In Scripture, Joseph (being a just man – not as a coward) wants to quietly divorce her.  In the Protoevangelium of James, Joseph wants to divorce her quietly because he is afraid.

Even leaving aside the bizarre sign of a dove emerging from the end of a rod and landing on Joseph’s head as a sign that he’s supposed to be Mary’s guardian in this work, the author of the work shows his only passing familiarity with Hebrew customs, by suggesting that the “waters of ordeal” were to be administered by the priest’s order both to Joseph and Mary (whereas the law prescribed the waters only for a woman and only upon the suspicion of infidelity to her husband, at her husband’s demand).

And it only gets weirder.  In section 19, Salome meets the midwife, and in section 20 Salome demands to investigate Mary’s private parts with her hand to see if she is still a virgin after having given birth.  Her hand then starts to drop off as if being burned by fire until it is cured by holding Jesus.

And yet again, in section 22, the account contradicts the Scriptural account in terms of Herod’s slaughter of the children.  Instead of a flight to Egypt, Mary hides Jesus in an ox stall.

There is not really any reason to suppose that anything in the so-called Protoevangelium of James has any reliability of any sort, beyond those parts which are obviously derived from the gospel accounts.  Yet that is what is being relied upon by those who are looking for straws to grasp in defense of the fiction of perpetual virginity.


Jesuit Historian Fitzmyer on the Perpetual Virginity

October 26, 2011

… one’s understanding of the doctrine of the continuous or perpetual virginity of Mary. Such church teaching was formulated by early Christians in the post-Apostolic era, making use of an interpretation of some passages in the New Testament that passed over others that were problematic, such as Jn. 1:45; 6:42; Lk. 4:22 (quoted above). The result was that that teaching was not universally accepted at first. Even though that teaching is thought sometimes to be implied in the second-century writing, Protevangelium Jacobi, it eventually became crystallized in the longstanding belief about Mary as aeiparthenos or semper virgo, “ever virgin,” in creeds from the fourth century on.

– Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., America Magazine, “Whose Name is This?” (November 18, 2002)

What is particularly interesting about the above is how candid Fitzmyer is that this doctrine is post-Apostolic.  Many apologists of Rome’s communion like to try to claim that Rome’s doctrines are apostolic in origin and part of an unwritten tradition.  Fitzmyer’s acknowledgment is the result, one supposes, of his view that there is no need for the doctrine to be Apostolic.  Thus, the quotation highlights a tension that exists between Rome’s historians and her apologists.


Response to Jerome’s Response to Helvidius – Part 4a

September 24, 2011

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the first part of a fourth in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.

Jerome wrote:

4. Let us take the points one by one, and follow the tracks of this impiety that we may show that he has contradicted himself. He admits that she was betrothed, and in the next breath will have her to be a man’s wife whom he has admitted to be his betrothed. Again, he calls her wife, and then says the only reason why she was betrothed was that she might one day be married. And, for fear we might not think that enough, “the word used,” he says, “is betrothed and not intrusted, that is to say, not yet a wife, not yet united by the bond of wedlock.”

We should definitely seek to avoid self-contradiction.  But is this a self-contradiction?  Why else is a woman betrothed except in order to become a wife?  Moreover, Joseph was minded to put her away, which is what one does with an unfaithful wife, but was encouraged to “take” her by the angel of the Lord,

Jerome seems to be attempting to score some kind of rhetorical points here, but it isn’t working.  Helvidius’ and our position is pretty straightforward and non-contradictory.  Mary was betrothed to Joseph, which was – at that time and in that culture – the first stage of the marriage, but it was prior to cohabitation.  Nevertheless, as set forth in the previous sections, the legal status of a betrothed woman was like that of a married woman, in that any fornication would be adultery.  Thus, Mary is sometimes called Joseph’s wife even though they had not yet come together.  It may be imprecise, but it is not really self-contradictory.

Jerome doesn’t attempt to revitalize the “intrusted” alternatively, seemingly granting that Helvidius is right.  Mary was betrothed (not intrusted) to Joseph.  She was to be his wife.

– TurretinFan

Response to Jerome’s Response to Helvidius – Part 3

September 23, 2011

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the third in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.

Jerome wrote:

3. His first statement was: “Matthew says, [Matthew 1:18-20] Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately. But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” “Notice,” he says, “that the word used is betrothed, not intrusted as you say, and of course the only reason why she was betrothed was that she might one day be married. And the Evangelist would not have said before they came together if they were not to come together, for no one would use the phrase before he dined of a man who was not going to dine. Then, again, the angel calls her wife and speaks of her as united to Joseph.” We are next invited to listen to the declaration of Scripture: [Matthew 1:24-25] “And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she had brought forth her son.” 

Finally, Jerome is getting around to an actual argument, and kudos to Jerome, he is presenting his opponent’s position first.  Specifically, what Jerome has done here is to present what Helvidius argued, apparently as a quotation from or at least a paraphrase or summary of Helvidius.  Considering that Jerome had accused Helvidius of being loquacious, one suspects that this may be a summary of Helvidius’ argument, rather than the entirety of it.

Helvidius argued from Matthew 1 that the word used is “betrothed” not merely “entrusted” and the reason for the betrothal was ultimately marriage.  Helvidius further argued that Matthew wouldn’t have written “before they came together” unless they were going to come together.  Likewise, the angel calls Mary Joseph’s wife and speaks of her as being united to Joseph, according to Helvidius.  Finally, there seems to be implied that “knew her not till …” implies that Joseph eventually knew Mary.

All of these seem to be sound arguments.  To them, we may add the argument we mentioned in the previous section, namely that Joseph was minded to put away Mary, not to seek out her seducer or to return her to her father or elsewhere.  Putting away implies divorce, which implies a marriage (of which betrothal is a first step), not merely an entrustment.


Response to Jerome’s Response to Helvidius – Part 2

September 23, 2011

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the second in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.

Jerome wrote:

2. I must call upon the Holy Spirit to express His meaning by my mouth and defend the virginity of the Blessed Mary. I must call upon the Lord Jesus to guard the sacred lodging of the womb in which He abode for ten months from all suspicion of sexual intercourse. And I must also entreat God the Father to show that the mother of His Son, who was a mother before she was a bride, continued a Virgin after her son was born. We have no desire to career over the fields of eloquence, we do not resort to the snares of the logicians or the thickets of Aristotle. We shall adduce the actual words of Scripture. Let him be refuted by the same proofs which he employed against us, so that he may see that it was possible for him to read what is written, and yet to be unable to discern the established conclusion of a sound faith.

While we agree with Jerome that the standard should be the actual words of Scripture and not attempts at Aristotelean philosophy, we have to note that Jerome is still not actually setting forth a valid argument for his position.

Notice that Jerome seems to think that “sexual intercourse” is something bad.  Thus, he describes suggestions to the contrary of his position as “suspicion of sexual intercourse” like one might speak of “suspicion of fornication” or the like.

Here is an opportunity, however, to help define the difference between us.  We agree that Mary was a virgin before the conception of Christ, and that until Jesus was born she remained a virgin.  This is important, not because virginity itself is somehow sacred, but because it was necessary that it be clear that Jesus was the Son of God.

Upon Jesus’ birth, the need for Mary to remain a virgin ceased.

Likewise, Mary was already betrothed when she was found with child.  She was Joseph’s bride-to-be, though they had not yet come together.  Under the Jewish regime, it would have been adultery for her to have been sexually joined to anyone but Joseph (“If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.” Deuteronomy 22:23-24), and when Joseph discovered her pregnancy, he was planning to divorce her (“Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.” Matthew 1:19).

That stood in contrast to the situation of a virgin that was not betrothed (Exodus 22:16  And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.). In that situation, neither death nor merciful divorce (as Joseph thought he would do) was appropriate.  Instead, in that case, the seduced girl would (with her father’s permission) become the spouse of the seducer.

Joseph was not minded to track down her seducer and make him marry Mary, he was minded to “put away” (i.e. divorce) Mary.  This demonstrates that Mary was to be Joseph’s wife.

Moreover, when Joseph considered this option of putting away Mary, God intervened. 

Matthew 1:20  But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Look at that! God specifically tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary unto him.  In context, that means Joseph is not to be afraid to take Mary to be his wife, which will involve the very thing that so troubled our ancient brother Jerome.  After all, that’s what distinguishes husband and wife from merely “betrothed” and is what is involved in “taking” her (compare “And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.” Deuteronomy 20:7).

In fact, it is such an integral part of taking her, that the Scriptures make sure to explain an exception:

Matthew 1:24-25 
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Notice that Joseph took Mary to be his wife, but did not know her until Jesus was born.  The implication, of course, is that this exceptional case ended with the identified terminus, namely Jesus’ birth.


Response to Jerome’s Response to Helvidius – Part 1

September 23, 2011

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the first in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.


1. I was requested by certain of the brethren not long ago to reply to a pamphlet written by one Helvidius. I have deferred doing so, not because it is a difficult matter to maintain the truth and refute an ignorant boor who has scarce known the first glimmer of learning, but because I was afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating. There was the further consideration that a turbulent fellow, the only individual in the world who thinks himself both priest and layman, one who, as has been said, thinks that eloquence consists in loquacity and considers speaking ill of anyone to be the witness of a good conscience, would begin to blaspheme worse than ever if opportunity of discussion were afforded him. He would stand as it were on a pedestal, and would publish his views far and wide. There was reason also to fear that when truth failed him he would assail his opponents with the weapon of abuse. But all these motives for silence, though just, have more justly ceased to influence me, because of the scandal caused to the brethren who were disgusted at his ravings. The axe of the Gospel must therefore be now laid to the root of the barren tree, and both it and its fruitless foliage cast into the fire, so that Helvidius who has never learnt to speak, may at length learn to hold his tongue.

One has to smile a little.  Here’s Jerome eagerly whipping up emotions against Helvidius as being someone who “considers speaking ill of anyone to be the witness of a good conscience” and “when truth failed him he would assail his opponents with the weapon of abuse.”  Yet obviously Jerome is intending to speak ill of Helvidius, and is assailing his opponent verbally, rather than beginning with arguments founded in truth.

We certainly agree with Jerome that the Gospel (i.e. the Scriptures) ought to be brought to bear on the matter, and that we ought not to count mere loquacity as eloquence.  On the other hand, we will need to examine the arguments before we decide whether it is Jerome’s arguments or those of Helvidius that ought properly to be described as ravings (if any!).

– TurretinFan

Calvin and the Perpetual Virginity (?) of Mary … plus the Real Francis Turretin

April 6, 2010

In his commentary on the synoptic gospels, Calvin wrote:

And knew her not 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. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. [FN: French has “Il est nomme Premier nay, mais non pour autre raison, sinon afin que nous sachions qu’il est nay d’une mere vierge, et qui jamais n’avoit eu enfant;” — “he is called First-born, but for no other reason than that we may know that he was born of a pure virgin, and who never had had a child.”] It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.

– John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke at Matthew 18:25

Some Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox folks have taken these comments from John Calvin to suggest that Calvin was endorsing the dogma of the perpetual virginity. This is a mistaken idea. While Calvin does appear to accept Jerome’s position of perpetual virginity (absence of sexual union virginity, not also in partu virginity) over Helvidius’ more Scriptural position of limited virginity (virginity until Christ was born), Calvin does not attempt to make this a dogmatic position. He views the issue as one that is of limited interest, mostly of interest to those who have nothing better to think about. That’s partly because Calvin lived in an age before Rome had defined the perpetual virginity as a dogma. Had he lived in that day, he might have spent more time considering the matter carefully and been less quick to dismiss Helvidius’ arguments. Of course, we cannot be sure, but he does seem to reject many of the interpretations upon which Roman Apologists depend today.

It should be noted as well that at Luke 1:34, Calvin comments:

The conjecture which some have drawn from these words, that she had formed a vow of perpetual virginity, is unfounded and altogether absurd. 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. Although the Papists have exercised barbarous tyranny on this subject, yet they have never proceeded so far as to allow the wife to form a vow of continence at her own pleasure. Besides, it is an idle and unfounded supposition that a monastic life existed among the Jews.

– John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke at Luke 1:34

This commentary shows us that if Calvin had been considering the issue in more depth, would not have adopted at least some of the arguments that Roman Catholics present. Specifically, Calvin properly rejected as absurd the idea that Mary’s comment “I know not a man” is suggestive of any vow of perpetual virginity.

Furthermore, Calvin rejected the excessive praise of Mary that the Roman Catholics of his day employed:

Woman, what have I to do with thee? Why does Christ repel her so rashly? I reply, though she was not moved by ambition, nor by any carnal affection, still she did wrong in going beyond her proper bounds. Her anxiety about the inconvenience endured by others, and her desire to have it in some way mitigated, proceeded from humanity, and ought to be regarded as a virtue; but still, by putting herself forward, she might obscure the glory of Christ. Though it ought also to be observed, that what Christ spoke was not so much for her sake as for the sake of others. Her modesty and piety were too great, to need so severe a chastisement. Besides, she did not knowingly and willingly offend; but Christ only meets the danger, that no improper use may be made of what his mother had said, as if it were in obedience to her command that he afterwards performed the miracle.

The Greek words (Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοὶ) literally mean, What to me and to thee? But the Greek phraseology is of the same import with the Latin — Quid tibi mecum? (what hast thou to do with me?) The old translator led many people into a mistake, by supposing Christ to have asserted, that it was no concern of his, or of his mother’s, if the wine fell short. But from the second clause we may easily conclude how far removed this is from Christ’s meaning; for he takes upon himself this concern, and declares that it belongs to him to do so, when he adds, my hour is not yet come. Both ought to be joined together — that Christ understands what it is necessary for him to do, and yet that he will not act in this matter at his mother’s suggestion.

It is a remarkable passage certainly; for why does he absolutely refuse to his mother what he freely granted afterwards, on so many occasions, to all sorts of persons? Again, why is he not satisfied with a bare refusal? and why does he reduce her to the ordinary rank of women, and not even deign to call her mother? This saying of Christ openly and manifestly warns men to beware lest, by too superstitiously elevating the honor of the name of mother in the Virgin Mary, they transfer to her what belongs exclusively to God. Christ, therefore, addresses his mother in this manner, in order to lay down a perpetual and general instruction to all ages, that his divine glory must not be obscured by excessive honor paid to his mother.

– John Calvin, Commentary on John, at John 2:4

This passage tends to show that while Calvin had a high regard for Mary, he was cautious about asserting overly high regard for her.

While we are on the subject, let us consider the fact that (for much the same reason as Calvin above) the real Francis Turretin similarly thought that Mary probably remained a virgin for her whole life:

This is not expressly declared in Scripture, but is yet piously believed with human faith from the consent of the ancient church. Thus it is probable that the womb in which our Savior received the auspices of life (whence he entered into this world, as from a temple) was so consecrated and sanctified by so great a guest that she always remained untouched by man; nor did Joseph ever cohabit with her.

Hence Helvidius and the Antidicomarianites (so-called because they were opponents of [antidikoi] Mary)are deservedly rebuked by the fathers for denying that Mary was always a virgin (aei Parthenon). They held that she cohabited with Joseph after delivery; yea, also bore children from him. As Augustine remarks, they rely on the shallowest arguments, i.e., because Christ is called the ‘firstborn’ of Mary (cf. De Haeresibus 56, 84 [PL 42.40, 46]). For as Jerome well remarks, she was so called because no one was begotten before him, not because there was another after him. Hence among lawyers: ‘He is the first whom no one precedes; he is last, whom no one follows.’ The Hebrews were accustomed to call the firstborn also only begotten; Israel is called ‘the first-born of God’ (Ex 4:22), although the only people chosen of God. Thus ‘the firstborn’ is said to be ‘holy unto God’ (Ex 13:2), who first opened the womb, whether others followed or not. Otherwise the firstborn would not have to be redeemed until after another offspring had been procreated (the law shows this to be false because it commands it to be redeemed a month after birth, Num. 18:16).

Not more solidly have they been able to elicit this from the fact that in the New Testament certain ones are called ‘the brothers of Christ.’ It is common in Scripture not only for one’s own and full brothers by nature to be designated by this name, but also blood relatives and cousins (as Abraham and Lot, Jacob and Laban). Thus James and Joses, Simon and Judas are called brothers of Christ (Mt. 13:55) by a relation of blood. For Mary (who is called their mother by Matthew and Mark) is called by John the sister of the Lord’s mother. However what is said in Jn. 7:5 that ‘neither did his brethren believe him’ must be understood of more remote blood relations.

Nor is it derived better from this-that Joseph is said ‘not to have known Mary till she had brought forth her firstborn son’ (Mt. 1:25). The particles ‘till” and ‘even unto’ are often referred only to the past, not to the future (i.e., they so connote the preceding time, concerning which there might be a doubt or which it was of the highest importance to know, as not to have a reference to the future-cf. Gen 28:15; Pss 122:2; 110:1; Mt.28:20, etc.). Thus is shown what was done by Joseph before the nativity of Christ (to wit, that he abstained form her); but it does not imply that he lived with her in any other way postpartum. When therefore she is said to have been found with child ‘before they came together’ (prin e synelthein autous), preceding copulation is denied, but not subsequent affirmed.

Although copulation had not take place in that marriage, it did not cease to be true and ratified (although unconsummated) for not intercourse, but consent makes marriage. Therefore it was perfect as to form (to wit, undivided conjunction of life and unviolated faith, but not as to end (to wit, the procreation of children, although it was not deficient as to the raising of the offspring.

– Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, 345-346 (transcription courtesy of the Eastern Orthodox blog Energetic Procession)

The same observations apply as noted above. Even more clearly than Calvin, Turretin explains that his belief is merely one of probability, not one having any positive Scriptural warrant. Had Turretin lived in an era when the Perpetual Virginity had been as carefully scrutinized as our day, we have reason to suppose that Turretin would have acceded to the arguments from Scripture. Additionally, Turretin’s mistaken belief that this view had “the consent of the ancient church” might have been corrected with additional study of the issue and more careful scrutiny of the patristic evidence.

– TurretinFan

Out of Tune with the Roman Magisterium?

August 18, 2009

Mr. Shea has posted a still further response on the topic of Mary’s birth pangs or lack thereof and the woman of Revelation 12 (link to Shea’s post). Mr. Shea seems to think our arguments “flat-footed” and compares discussing this with us to discussing music appreciation with a deaf man. This flatfloot, however, is less interested in arresting Mr. Shea for playing such bad music, but for doing so without the proper license.

Mr. Shea characterizes his previous arguments with respect to Mary’s birth pangs and Rome’s teaching or not on that subject as follows: “the whole point is that Rome acknowledges this opinion, but does not commit us to it.” Here, however, the flatfoot in one thinks to investigate. Does Rome merely acknowledge the opinion or actually teach it? Are we tone deaf, or is Mr. Shea out of tune with his magisterium?

The Catechism of Trent, most recently (that I could find) promulgated by the encyclical In Dominico Agro, on June 14, 1761, by pope Clement XIII included the following paragraph:

The Virgin Mother we may also compare to Eve, making the second Eve, that is, Mary, correspond to the first, as we have already shown that the second Adam, that is, Christ, corresponds to the first Adam. By believing the serpent, Eve brought malediction and death on mankind, and Mary, by believing the Angel, became the instrument of The divine goodness in bringing life and benediction to the human race. From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through Him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.

Notice how Clement XIII’s catechism not only makes the connection that Mr. Shea previously attempted to criticize (“By the logic of this argument, it would also be possible to indict Jesus as a sinner since he suffered, toiled, sweated, and died, just like Adam (cf. Gen. 3:17-19).”), namely that because the sufferings were part of the curse, therefore, Mary didn’t suffer them. So, the tones of Mr. Shea’s song seem to be a bit off, if we’re permitted to use the official teachings of his church as our tuning fork for what constitutes Roman Catholicism – after all, they are the licensed magisterium, but I don’t think he can claim that same privilege.

In fact, and germane to our discussion, this paragraph it is not just from any old catechism, but from an official catechism. You will recall earlier that Mr. Shea built his argument that Rome doesn’t teach the view on the grounds that: “But as the carefully worded language of the Catechism (quoted in the combox) makes clear, the Church doesn’t go to the mat on this question.” By Mr. Shea’s apparent reasoning, Clement XIII’s Rome did “go to the mat” on this question, whether or not the ambiguous wording of the more recent 1980’s catechism does. Yet Mr. Shea seems insistent on relying on the silence of the current catechism on this particular issue.

Even in his latest post, Mr. Shea writes:

Note what is not demanded here. There is no clause saying “The faithful must, on pain of excommunication, believe and profess that Mary suffered no birth pangs.” So it’s rather a stretch to say “Rome teaches” this. In fact, Rome acknowledges it as a very common opinion and it is certainly something many great Catholics have held.

This kind of comment simply shows how out of touch Mr. Shea is with the life, discipline, and history of his own church. As Clement XIII explained regarding the Catechism of Trent:

The popes clearly understood this. They devoted all their efforts not only to cut short with the sword of anathema the poisonous buds of growing error, but also to cut away certain developing ideas which either could prevent the Christian people unnecessarily from bearing a greater fruit of faith or could harm the minds of the faithful by their proximity to error. So the Council of Trent condemned those heresies which tried at that time to dim the light of the Church and which led Catholic truth into a clearer light as if the cloud of errors had been dispersed. As our predecessors understood that that holy meeting of the universal Church was so prudent in judgment and so moderate that it abstained from condemning ideas which authorities among Church scholars supported, they wanted another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error.

So, the purpose of the Tridentine catechism was to be “another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error.” In fact, according to Clement XIII, the catechism was drawn up in a minimalist way: “they proposed that only what is necessary and very useful for salvation be clearly and plainly explained in the Roman Catechism and communicated to the faithful.”

Is the miraculous/painless birth something to which denial has been penalized with an anathema? I’m not aware of any such promulgation. Does that mean Rome has not explicitly taught that view and even grouped it as being a matter that is “necessary and very useful for salvation”? But Mr. Shea thinks that he’s free to accept it or not accept it: cafeteria-style Roman Catholicism at its most polemic (How polemic is his cafeteria position? he compares the view of Mary’s birth of Jesus being painless to geocentrism and the idea that Jews are accursed).

Mr. Shea claims: “In similar ways, the Catholic Church has had all sorts of schools of opinion on all manner of subjects, while the Magisterium has refrained, sometimes for centuries, from plumping in favor or one or the other.” I don’t know about you, but to me putting something in a catechism and saying in an official papal encyclical that the catechism only has matters that are “necessary and very useful to salvation” sounds like “the Magisterium” taking sides on the matter. As Clement XIII points out, after all, the Roman Catechism (as it was then called) was actually the product of Pius V (pope from January, 17, 1504 – May 1, 1572).

Moreover, as I pointed out in my previous post, Mr. Shea has yet to show us someone who holds to “in partu” virginity of Mary and yet asserts that Mary had birth pangs. This is not like the Thomist / Molinist controversy in which the popes simply avoided taking sides and eventually permitted both views to be maintained. Despite Mr. Shea’s lack of assistance, I’ve looked diligently for another side to this supposed controversy. The closest one finds is Ludwig Ott:

2. Virginity During the Birth of Jesus: Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity. (De fide on the ground of the general promulgation of doctrine.)

The dogma merely asserts the fact of the continuance of Mary’s physical virginity without determining more closely how this is to be physiologically explained. In general the Fathers and the Schoolmen conceived it as non-injury to the hymen, and accordingly taught that Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pains (cf. S. th. III 28, 2).

However, according to modern natural scientific knowledge, the purely physical side of virginity consists in the non-fulfilment of the sex act (“sex-act virginity”) and in the non-contact of the female egg by the male seed (“seed-act virginity”) (A. Mitterer). Thus, injury to the hymen in birth does not destroy virginity, while, on the other hand, its rupture seems to belong to complete natural motherhood. It follows from this that from the concept of virginity alone the miraculous character of the process of birth cannot be inferred, if it cannot be, and must not be derived from other facts of Revelation. Holy Writ attests Mary’s active rôle in the act of birth (Mt. 1, 25; Luke 2, 7: “She brought forth”) which does not seem to indicate a miraculous process.

But the Fathers, with few exceptions, vouch for the miraculous character of the birth. However, the question is whether in so doing they attest a truth of Revelation or whether they wrongly interpret a truth of Revelation, that is, Mary’s virginity, from an inadequate natural scientific point of view. It seems hardly possible to demonstrate that the dignity of the Son of God or the dignity of the Mother of God demands a miraculous birth.

Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 205

Ott himself doesn’t come out and advocate a lack of physical integrity in Mary, but he does criticize the physical integrity in partu position on the basis of (of all things) Scripture. He ends up expressing uncertainty over whether the Fathers were “attest[ing] a truth of Revelation” or “wrongly interpret[ing] a truth of Revelation” based on “an inadequate natural scientific point of view.” That kind of agnosticism over the issue is far to the “other side” as I was able to locate from any kind of authority in Roman Catholic theology. Of course, the body of Roman Catholic literature is enormous, and I may have overlooked something.

Mr. Shea eventually ends up consenting as well, if somewhat grudgingly. He states: “None of that is to say that it is wrong to think Mary suffered no birth pangs. I think the patristic logic is sense,” although he goes on to insist that since there is no anathema “that’s a matter of liberty, not of ‘Rome teaches’.”

Finally, Mr. Shea gets to what he views as the argument. He wants to interpret the birth pangs of the Revelation 12 woman as not being literal birth pangs but some kind of psychological pains such as those experienced by Mary when Jesus was crucified.

While that might seem like an escape, it undermines the identification of Mary with the Revelation 12 woman. After all, the main reason to identify Mary with the Revelation 12 woman is the fact that the woman there gives birth to a man child. In other words, one has to interpret that giving birth literally in order to connect Mary to the Revelation 12 woman. Then to turn around and make the travails non-literal seems arbitrary at best. Finally, to make them the psychological pain Mary experienced when Jesus was crucified ignores the temporal sequence found in Revelation 12, and further demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the association between Mary and the woman of Revelation 12.

Mr. Shea might think that having to defend his position is “like arguing about music appreciation with a deaf man” and call our arguments “flat-footed,” but that flat platform apparently leads to sure-footed stability of consistent explanation and a knack for detective work in tracking down what Rome actually teaches. Likewise, while we may be deaf to the sirens of Rome (though it seems to be Mr. Shea who is not quite in tune with Rome’s orchestra), we lack the inner ear problems that result in the wobbly (and eventually toppling) arguments trying to link Mary and the Revelation 12 woman.


Rome Teaches?

August 13, 2009

Mr. Shea seems to think that because Rome’s teaching on the painlessness of Mary’s birth is not explicit in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it’s not one of Rome’s teachings (link). To put that issue to bed, let’s provide him with that teaching from a bishop of Rome. Sorry it’s not Benedict XVI or John Paul II, but there were bishops of Rome before them.

Pope Alexander III (1169) wrote: “Mary conceived without shame, gave birth without pain, and has departed from earth without undergoing the corruption of the tomb, thus proving – according to the word of the angel – that she was full of grace and nothing less.” (Translation by Joseph Duhr, S.J.)(Latin taken from Denzinger: “(Maria) concepit nempe sine pudore, peperit sine dolore, et hinc migravit sine corruptione, iuxta verbum angeli, immo Dei per angelum, ut plena, non semiplena, gratiae esse probaretur … .” as reported in Denzinger-Schoenmetzer, 1963, at item 748).

That really ought to be enough to shut Shea up about whether or not the teaching is a Roman teaching, whether or not the teaching made it into the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” That document, after all and massive as it is, is not an exhaustive work. But perhaps we should show what else makes this a teaching of Rome.

We already pointed out that Aquinas taught that Jesus birth did not cause Mary pain. Mr. Shea chooses to misrepresent this evidence as “because everything Aquinas ever said is Roman Catholic doctrine” (despite the fact that we repeatedly point out how Aquinas differs from Rome on things like the Immaculate Conception and Sola Scriptura, even while not being fully Reformed in his view of the bishop or Rome, plenary councils, or the life of Mary).

Worse than the misrepresentation, though, is Mr. Shea’s attempt to dodge Aquinas’ reasoning: Aquinas reasoned that Mary didn’t have birth pains because she didn’t give birth through the birth canal, because she remained a virgin even despite the birth of Christ. Mr. Shea seems afraid to address what Aquinas’ reasoning is (it’s, of course, not for me to say whether Aquinas knows more about what “Catholic” theology is than Mr. Shea, but I think Aquinas is a better known and respected theologian).

Mr. Shea appeals vaguely to the “Catholic Catechism,” but fails to make clear to his readers that the “Catholic Catechism” confirms this premise on which Aquinas’ argument is made. Specifically:

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin”.

– CCC 499 (footnotes omitted)

Mr. Shea tries to characterize the Roman teaching that Mary did not suffer during childbirth in this way:

A broad tradition has always existed in Catholic circles which holds that our Lady experienced no labor pains. One can see the tradition reflected in sundry sources and attested by luminaries like St. Thomas. It is certainly generally regarded as a pious opinion and is certain compatible with the Church’s dogmatic teaching.

As to the “always,” of course Mr. Shea is being anachronistic. The concept of the perpetual virginity, and its extreme form with respect to Jesus not using the birth canal, were developments. The doctrine of Jesus’ birth being painless for Mary is a further development based on those. It’s not something that has “always” been around, although we can trace it back quite a few centuries.

Nevertheless, despite the ancient lineage and broad acceptance of this view, Mr. Shea tries to dismiss this view as not being something that Rome teaches because, “But as the carefully worded language of the Catechism (quoted in the combox) makes clear, the Church doesn’t go to the mat on this question.”

Of course, the Catechism (as see above) actually makes it quite explicit that Mary’s virginity was not affected by the birth of Jesus. It just doesn’t come out and say “and she didn’t, therefore, suffer birth pangs.” Besides that, of course, the Catechism isn’t an exhaustive list of everything Rome has ever taught about everything and on every subject. I’d love to see Mr. Shea prove to us his unspoken premise that “if it’s not in the Catechism it’s not something that Rome teaches.”

One wonders, though, why Mr. Shea doesn’t think that the teachings of Pope Alexander III and Thomas Aquinas are teachings of Rome. Does he find fault with Aquinas’ explanation? Aquinas argues his position from a premise that is a teaching that made its way into the Catechism.

But let’s look at it the other way. Mr. Shea wants to think of this as just a “broad tradition” and not something that Rome actually teaches. Here’s a relatively simple request: show us who teaches that Mary’s virginity was not destroyed by Christ’s birth but rejects Alexander III’s and Aquinas’ view that she did not suffer in childbirth.

I’d love to hear from Shea who he thinks opposes the opinion of John of Damascus who said:

For He who was of the Father, yet without mother, was born of woman without a father’s co-operation. And so far as He was born of woman, His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while so far as He had no father, His birth was above the nature of generation: and in that it was at the usual time (for He was born on the completion of the ninth month when the tenth was just beginning), His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while in that it was painless it was above the laws of generation. For, as pleasure did not precede it, pain did not follow it, according to the prophet who says, Before she travailed, she brought forth, and again, before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child [Is. lxvi. 7.].

– John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 14

That’s an even different argument (than Aquinas’ argument) for the same result. What argument from tradition can Mr. Shea bring forth? How does Mr. Shea conclude that the painless birth of Christ is not one of Rome’s teachings?

How does Mr. Shea know what Rome teaches?

That’s the question that should be troubling Mr. Shea and his readers. It’s nice to act as though the Catechism were an infallible canon of Rome’s teachings, but it doesn’t make that claim for itself. Mr. Shea likes the way that the current CCC words things, but the Catechism of the Council of Trent put it this way:

But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of our Lord presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine.

Besides, what is admirable beyond the power of thoughts or words to express, He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity, just as He afterwards went forth from the sepulchre while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut; or, not to depart from every-day examples, just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity. This immaculate and perpetual virginity forms, therefore, the just theme of our eulogy. Such was the work of the Holy Ghost, who at the Conception and birth of the Son so favoured the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity while preserving inviolate her perpetual virginity.

– Catechism of the Council of Trent, on the Second Part of the Third Article of the Creed

So, yes. It is a teaching of Rome. Is it a defined dogma? No. Neither is everything that is found in the Catechism. Yet still it is a teaching. In fact, on this particular point, Mr. Shea has been unable to point us to any authority within Roman Catholicism that would suggest otherwise. Where are these Roman Catholic teachers who claim that Mary gave birth the normal way, or that she suffered birth pains in any way. Who are these teachers who disagree with Aquinas and John of Damascus?

Oh? Mr. Shea doesn’t know? He can’t find them? What a surprise! It’s just like the problem that Irenaeus faced. We confront them with Scripture, they turn to tradition, and when we confront them with tradition they reject it as well. And this is even a bit worse, for the tradition I’m citing to Mr. Shea is not the apostolic tradition, not tradition properly derived from Scripture, but the tradition on which his sect is built!


P.S. I notice that Mr. Shea seems interested to run to his fall-back position of allegorizing the travail of the Revelation 12 woman. Its very easy to use ad hoc allegorizations (Shea writes sarcastically: “Only a fool could see in the image of birth pangs an image of the anguish Mary endured watching her Son die as he brought the kingdom to birth in his passion.”) but it is quite another thing to justify those from the text (totally impossible in the case of Revelation 12, which places the travails before the birth of the child). Sarcasm is something Shea is quite good at, and he’s demonstrated that for us. Now, let’s see if he can be as skillful at exposition either of Scripture or tradition.

Why Do Roman Catholics Think that Mary Didn’t Have Pain During Childbirth?

August 12, 2009

One belief that is common in Roman Catholicism today is that Jesus was born without Mary suffering any pain. While sometimes Roman Catholics think that this fits with the concept of Mary being immaculately conceived, when we examine this doctrine prior to the acceptance of the view of Mary’s immaculate conception, we see some slightly different justifications.

Article 6. Whether Christ was born without His Mother suffering?

Objection 1. It would seem that Christ was not born without His Mother suffering. For just as man’s death was a result of the sin of our first parents, according to Genesis 2:17: “In what day soever ye shall eat, ye shall [Vulgate: ‘thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt] die”; so were the pains of childbirth, according to Genesis 3:16: “In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children.” But Christ was willing to undergo death. Therefore for the same reason it seems that His birth should have been with pain.

Objection 2. Further, the end is proportionate to the beginning. But Christ ended His life in pain, according to Isaiah 53:4: “Surely . . . He hath carried our sorrows.” Therefore it seems that His nativity was not without the pains of childbirth.

Objection 3. Further, in the book on the birth of our Saviour [Protevangelium Jacobi xix, xx] it is related that midwives were present at Christ’s birth; and they would be wanted by reason of the mother’s suffering pain. Therefore it seems that the Blessed Virgin suffered pain in giving birth to her Child.

On the contrary, Augustine says (Serm. de Nativ. [Supposititious), addressing himself to the Virgin-Mother: “In conceiving thou wast all pure, in giving birth thou wast without pain.”

I answer that, The pains of childbirth are caused by the infant opening the passage from the womb. Now it has been said above (28, 2, Replies to objections), that Christ came forth from the closed womb of His Mother, and, consequently, without opening the passage. Consequently there was no pain in that birth, as neither was there any corruption; on the contrary, there was much joy therein for that God-Man “was born into the world,” according to Isaiah 35:1-2: “Like the lily, it shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise.”

Reply to Objection 1. The pains of childbirth in the woman follow from the mingling of the sexes. Wherefore (Genesis 3:16) after the words, “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children,” the following are added: “and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power.” But, as Augustine says (Serm. de Assumpt. B. Virg., [Supposititious), from this sentence we must exclude the Virgin-Mother of God; who, “because she conceived Christ without the defilement of sin, and without the stain of sexual mingling, therefore did she bring Him forth without pain, without violation of her virginal integrity, without detriment to the purity of her maidenhood.” Christ, indeed, suffered death, but through His own spontaneous desire, in order to atone for us, not as a necessary result of that sentence, for He was not a debtor unto death.

Reply to Objection 2. As “by His death” Christ “destroyed our death” [Preface of the Mass in Paschal-time, so by His pains He freed us from our pains; and so He wished to die a painful death. But the mother’s pains in childbirth did not concern Christ, who came to atone for our sins. And therefore there was no need for His Mother to suffer in giving birth.

Reply to Objection 3. We are told (Luke 2:7) that the Blessed Virgin herself “wrapped up in swaddling clothes” the Child whom she had brought forth, “and laid Him in a manger.” Consequently the narrative of this book, which is apocryphal, is untrue. Wherefore Jerome says (Adv. Helvid. iv): “No midwife was there, no officious women interfered. She was both mother and midwife. ‘With swaddling clothes,’ says he, ‘she wrapped up the child, and laid Him in a manger.'” These words prove the falseness of the apocryphal ravings.

– Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Third Part, Question 35, Article 6

As you can see, the justifications are:

1) Birth pangs result from sin due to the mingling of the sexes. Christ was not born from sexual intercourse, and Mary was not therefore, stained by that sin, and did not suffer the punishment for that sin. Pseud-Augustine is cited in support of this idea. “Supposititious” is the editor’s way of noting that the work is not really something Augustine wrote, though Aquinas mistakenly believed it was.

2) Mary didn’t have to suffer, because Mary didn’t come to atone for our sins. What a marvelously clear rejection of the modern Roman doctrine of the co-redemption of Mary!

3) Aquinas rejects the idea that there were midwives present, rejecting the Protevangelium of James (Protevangelium Jacobi) as “apocryphal ravings.”

4) Aquinas mistakenly thinks that Augustine taught that Mary didn’t suffer birth pangs.

5) But most of all, because Jesus was not born the normal way, according to Aquinas: he did not come out through the birth canal. This preserves Mary as a virgin, something she would not physically be after a normal birth for reasons that are obvious to anyone who understands anatomy.


%d bloggers like this: