The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

by Dr. Robert Schihl

Fathers of the Church

Church Fathers from at least the fourth century spoke of Mary as having remained a virgin throughout her life:

Athanasius (Alexandria, 293-373);
Epiphanius (Palestine, 315?-403);
Jerome (Stridon, present day Yugoslavia, 345?-419);
Augustine (Numidia, now Algeria, 354-430);
Cyril (Alexandria, 376-444);
and others.

Teaching of the Universal Church

The Council of Constantinople II (553-554) twice referred to Mary as "ever-virgin."

Protestant Reformers

The protestant reformers affirmed their belief that Mary, while remaining every-virgin, was truly the Mother of God. Here are only a few examples:

Martin Luther (1483-1546), On the Divine Motherhood of Mary, wrote:

In this work whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such great good things were given her that no one can grasp them. ... Not only was Mary the mother of him who is born [in Bethlehem], but of him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father, from a Mother in time and at the same time man and God. (Weimer's The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 7, p. 572.)

Luther wrote on the Virginity of Mary:

It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. ... Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact. (Weimer's The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510.)

The French reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) also held that Mary was the Mother of God.

It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor. ... Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary as at the same time the eternal God. (Calvini Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Braunschweig-Berlin, 1863-1900, v. 45, p. 348, 35.)

Calvin also up held the perpetual virginity of Mary, as did the Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), who 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. (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424.)

Objections

There are some very common objections to the belief that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus.

1) The Bible frequently speaks of the "brothers" and "sisters" of Jesus.

First it is important to note that the Bible does not say that these "brothers and sisters" of Jesus were children of Mary.

Second, the word for brother (or sister), adelphos (adelpha) in Greek, denotes a brother or sister, or near kinsman. Aramaic and other semitic languages could not distinguish between a blood brother or sister and a cousin, for example. Hence, John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus (the son of Elizabeth, cousin of Mary) would be called "a brother (adelphos) of Jesus." In the plural, the word means a community based on identity of origin or life. Additionally, the word adelphos is used for (1) male children of the same parents (Mt 1:2); (2) male descendants of the same parents (Acts 7:23); (3) male children of the same mother (Gal 1:19); (4) people of the same nationality (Acts 3:17); (5) any man, a neighbor (Lk 10:29); (6) persons united by a common interest (Mt 5:47); (7) persons united by a common calling (Rev 22:9); (8) mankind (Mt 25:40); (9) the disciples (Mt 23:8); and (10) believers (Mt 23:8). (From Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson, Publisher.)

2) A second objection to Mary's virginity arises from the use of the word heos in Matthew's gospel. "He (Joseph) had no relations with her at any time before (heos) she bore a son, whom he named Jesus" (Mt 1:25, NAB).

The Greek and the Semitic use of the word heos (until or before) does not imply anything about what happens after the time indicated. In this case, there is no necessary implication that Joseph and Mary had sexual contact or other children after Jesus.

3) A third objection to the perpetual virginity of Mary arises from the use of the word prototokos, translated 'first-born' in Luke's gospel.

But the Greek word prototokos is used of Christ as born of Mary and of Christ's relationship to His Father (Col 1:25). As the word does not imply other children of God the Father, neither does it imply other children of Mary.

The term "first-born" was a legal term under the Mosaic Law (Ex 6:14) referring to the first male child born to Jewish parents regardless of any other children following or not. Hence when Jesus is called the "first-born" of Mary it does not mean that there were second or third-born children.


Excerpted and abridged from Chap. 7 of A Biblical Apologetic of the Catholic Faith, by Dr. Robert Schihl, Professor at Regent University. It appears here for for personal use only and may not be reproduced for any other use without permission of the author. The complete text may be downloaded from EWTN's Apologetics library as APOLOGIA.ZIP.

If you find this Biblical Apologetic of use please send your thanks to:

Dr. Robert J. Schihl
Regent University
Professor, School of Radio, Television and Film
College of Communications and the Arts
Virginia Beach, Virginia 23464-9800

This electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.


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