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Mary’s Perpetual Virginity . . . Summing Up

May 25, 2014 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 8

The Gospels mention Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Matt. 13:54-57; also Mark 6:2-3 et alia), and anti-Catholic bigotry sees in this a supposed “argument” against the Catholic teaching of the perpetual virginity of our Lady. But bigotry ignores that in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages, there was no clear distinction between “blood-brother” and “cousin.” Their culture was not centered on the “nuclear family” as we have it today, but the extended family, in which cousins were known as brothers and sisters.
The New Testament was not written in English. In Hebrew and Aramaic, “brethren” does not mean only brothers and sisters from the same father and mother, as in English, but also near kinsmen.
History records that belief in the perpetual virginity of the Mother of Jesus is part and parcel of the faith of the Early Church and was never defined as a dogma. It was not necessary, since everyone believed it.
There is never in Sacred Scripture any mention of Mary’s children. No mention of children born in Egypt or before Jesus’ being left behind in the Temple. Jesus gave His Mother to the care of St. John: In the Jewish culture of those days, no one would leave his mother in the care of strangers, or even cousins, if you have blood brothers. If Jesus left her to the care of St. John, that’s because she did not have other children.
Examples in the Bible: Abram called Lot his brother, whereas he was his nephew; King Assuerus called Esther his sister, whereas she was his wife.
On the cross, Jesus called John His son, whereas he was His cousin; Ananias called Paul his brother, whereas he was only a fellow Jew; St. Paul calls Titus his brother, and later on his son, whereas they were just fellow-Christians; Jesus calls His brother, sister, mother those who do the will of God. And so on, and so forth.
“And he [Joseph] did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:25).
The words “till” and “until” reflect a manner of speaking, usual among the Hebrews, which refers to a state or condition which may or may not continue after a given point in time: They say nothing about what happens after. The words convey the same meaning, that is, they speak only about what happens up to a particular point but say nothing about what happens after.
When St. Paul exhorted the Philippians to be “sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,” he did not expect them to stop being sincere and without offense after the day of Christ.
When St. Paul told Timothy: “Until I come, be diligent in reading [the Scriptures].” He did not mean that Timothy should stop reading the Scriptures after he came.
In the story of the man born blind, “the Jews did not believe him until they called his parents” (John 9:18). But they did not believe the ex-blind man after his parents came.
God punished Michol, King Saul’s daughter, with childlessness: “She did not bear children until she died” (1 Kings 3:23). Did she have children after her death? We hope not!
All that St. Matthew is saying is that the child was not fathered by Joseph. The Jerusalem Bible gets it right: “Although he had no intercourse with her, she gave birth to her firstborn son.”
In biblical terms, the words till or until refer only to what happened up to a given point in time, and say nothing about what happens after.
“And he [Joseph] did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:25).
The firstborn was a legal title given to the first male child born to a woman — if it was a girl, then she was not considered the firstborn.
Mary’s perpetual virginity was foreseen by the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of God’s Temple, in which the East Gate was reserved for the Lord God of Israel: “This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it; because the Lord God of Israel has entered in through it, and it shall be shut” (Ezek. 44:1).
The Early Christians understood this symbol as meaning the perpetual virginity of the Mother of Jesus.
Besides, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli defended her perpetual virginity, against the beliefs of many people calling themselves evangelical Christian today.
Of all the Marian symbols in the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant enjoys pre-eminence. The similarities are simply outstanding. What the ark meant in symbol, in pre-figure, Mary is in reality.
But the original Ark was only a symbol. In Mary, God was really present, so much so as to become her Son. That is why the early Christians considered Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.
The Ark was overlaid with the purest gold, within and without. Now gold is the symbol of purity, and the Ark was the dwelling place par excellence of God’s presence. The Ark of the Covenant carried within it the Word of God in stone. The Blessed Virgin Mary carried within her the Word of God made Flesh — she is the Ark of the New Covenant, the dwelling place of God among men.
No man could touch the Ark. The Philistines who did died by the thousands and Oza the Hebrew who held it from the oxcart was struck by God on the spot.
St. Joseph was a man; he lived with the Ark of the New Covenant under the same roof for over 20 years, and was not struck dead by God. Why? Simple: He never touched her as a husband is wont to touch his wife.
The Early Christians believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Denial of this belief flies in the face of the whole history of Christianity.
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon? And are not also his sisters here with us?” Those were Jesus’ cousins, sons of their uncle Cleophas and his wife, Mary.
Jesus’ brethren were not children of St. Joseph from a previous marriage, either, however pious this thought may be. If he had been a widower who married again, he would not have wanted to live a celibate life in his new marriage.
The dialogue between our Lady and the angel in Luke 1 also shows her intention to remain a virgin for life.
“But Mary said to the angel, how shall this happen, since I do not know man?” (Luke 1:34). Now she was espoused to Joseph, and had a clear idea of how babies are conceived and born. This question of hers makes no sense if she had not determined to remain a virgin. Otherwise in the natural course of events in married life, she would eventually conceive and become a mother of the son of God. What she was asking was, “How can I have a child while remaining a virgin?”

St. Augustine

A final but beautiful explanation of the verb to know in “And he [Joseph] did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:25) is inspired in a comment by St. Augustine:
St. Joseph knew who his spouse truly when he saw the angels of God singing around the crib of Bethlehem and understood that she was the Virgin Mother of God. . . !
The denial of the perpetual virginity of Mary is unscriptural, unhistorical, and illogical in terms of Hebrew customs, traditions, and language; it goes against the faith of the early Church and even the beliefs of the Protestant leaders themselves.

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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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