Who is Mary?
Let’s start with the basics, and not assume that people know what the Church believes. Mary was a Jewess from the Israelite tribe of Judah; this means that the Blessed Virgin was a descendent of King David, as was her Son, Jesus of Nazareth.
According to Church tradition, Mary was dedicated to God at a very young age, but I’ll talk about that in the next section.
Mary became the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, when she fell in line with God’s will, becoming His vessel for the salvation of mankind. Through Mary, God was able to send the Son into the world to preach the Gospel, and bring about atonement on the cross.
Interestingly, while there are many beliefs held about Mary, only two have been dogmatically defined: Her Perpetual Virginity, and her Assumption.
We also consider Mary to be the Queen of Heaven, our Mediatrix, and our Counsellor. She is the New Eve, the Mother of all Christians, and truly a friend of those who call on her.
The Perpetual Virgin
The Church has taught that Mary was a virgin before the birth of her son, Jesus, and after His birth. Though she was married to her husband, Joseph, they never had sexual relations, instead dedicating her life to the service of her God. In this sense, Catholic women that become Nuns emulate the Blessed Virgin, just as Priests emulate Jesus.
The reason that Mary married was to protect her from would-be husbands who did not respect her vow to God, ‘forcing’ her to give up her virginity to them. In stead, Joseph was chosen as an older man who already had children, to be to the protector and provider of God’s handmaid.
It’s true that the Bible refers to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, but does that mean they were Mary’s children? Well, no. The Greek word for brother/sister just means ‘close relative’, so it could also refer to Christ’s cousins, or half brothers from a previous marriage of Joseph’s.
Why did Mary remain a virgin?
After Jesus’ birth, Mary’s dedication to the Lord hadn’t shifted; she still desired to dedicate her life to God, meaning a desire to remain a virgin. There’s no reason to believe that her resolve had left her, and now Mary was desiring an earthly life. Imagine if you had dedicated your life to God, and then He used you in such a unique way; you would be even more enamored.
This desire would’ve intensified after Jesus’ birth, because now Mary was able to dedicate herself more fully to God in the form of her Son.
Mary’s body had become the Ark of the New Covenant, a dwelling place for God almighty, and so she submitted her body totally to the will of God. If she had then known a man, it would have subtracted from the specialness that God had imbued her with.
And so Mary willingly ‘closed the gate’, as we saw in the Old Testament prophecy. Her womb would be used by God’s will for a unique moment in history, and for no other reason.
Mary’s virginity also highlights the fact that she had a much more important Motherhood- a motherhood of Christ’s Church. By remaining a virgin, Mary dedicated herself to the care of the Church in every generation; she does this by her ‘constant and unfailing intercession on which we rely.’ Mary didn’t ‘give up’ parental responsibilities at Christ’s death- those responsibilities were lifted to a whole new level!
The Bible seems to strongly suggest that Mary was a perpetual virgin.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”
Really think about what is said here. The angel Gabriel tells Mary that she ‘will’ bear a son, sometime in the future. The assumption on Mary’s part should be that in the time between this angelic visit, and her son’s birth, she would get married and become pregnant. Yet Mary seems adamant that she has no intention of being in a situation where pregnancy could be the outcome, and so the Angel goes on to explain ‘how’ Mary would conceive her son.
The fact that Mary was questioning how she could become pregnant before the miracle of the Virgin Birth is explained to her, really calls into question the idea that Mary gave up her virginity after the birth of Jesus. Mary is adamant that pregnancy via natural means isn’t possible, implying her desire to remain a virgin.
The Crucifixion dialogue
At the crucifixion, Jesus shows His infinite love: while in agony, He still shows concern for His mother. He hands the care of Mary to the Beloved Disciple, telling them that they must see each other as mother and son, caring for one another. Why would Jesus dedicate His mother to a non-relative? Even if Protestants claim that Jesus’ brothers left Him to suffer, and so couldn’t be trusted with Mary’s care, then why? Not wanting to die in defense of a brother isn’t quite the same as leaving your elderly mother to care for herself.
The fact that Jesus felt the need to leave Mary in the care of a friend, the beloved disciple, suggests that Mary had no one else to care for her.
“The gate will be shut and it will not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.”
The early Church understood this prophecy to pertain to Mary’s virginity. Mary was perceived as the new temple, the place where God almighty had dwelt in the person of Christ. The passage suggests that because God had entered this new temple, it would not be fitting for any other person to enter via the same means: in this case, pregnancy and child birth.
Arguments against the Perpetual Virginity of Mary
The ‘until’ argument:
When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and embraced Mary as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a Son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.- Matthew 1:24-25
This verse seems to suggest that Joseph had sexual relations with his wife after Jesus’ birth. The faulty logic suggests that if x doesn’t happen ‘until’ after y, then x must happen after y. I can tell my nephews that they won’t get dessert until they clean there room; it doesn’t mean that by cleaning the rooms they get dessert.
This verse simply tells us what happened between Mary and Joseph ‘up to’ the birth of Christ, it doesn’t tell us what happened after. The ‘until’ argument is also illogical when we look to other Scripture and apply the same logic:
2 Samuel 6:23: And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to (until) the day of her death. (Does this mean she had children after she died?)
1 Timothy 4:13: Until I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. (Does this mean Timothy should stop teaching after Paul comes?)
1 Corinthians 15:25: For he (Christ) must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (Does this mean Christ’s reign will end? By no means! Luke 1:33 says, “he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”)
From these verses we can understand that ‘until’ can mean ‘up to this point, and continuing after.’ It would be inconsistent for those who deny the Perpetual Virginity of Mary to use the ‘until’ argument, unless they were comfortable also applying it to every place in the Bible that the word ‘until’ appears.
The ‘brothers of Jesus’ argument:
The Bible refers to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and so Protestants say Mary must have had other children. But the Bible seems to suggest otherwise. Firstly, the Greek word that we translate into ‘siblings’ can be translated to ‘close relative’. It could just as likely mean ‘cousin.’
As believers, we are to consider each other as ‘brothers’. Abraham and Lot are called ‘brothers’ (Gen 13:8), when actually they were uncle and nephew respectively. Jacob and Laban were called brothers, when actually they also had an uncle/nephew relationship (Gen 29:15). This reference to Jesus’ brothers could be metaphorical, it could be a reference to His cousins (Elizabeth’s children).
But let’s suggest that Jesus had brothers. It still doesn’t disprove Mary’s Perpetual Virginity: Jesus having brothers doesn’t mean they were Mary’s children; they very well could’ve been Joseph’s from his previous marriage. Why would I believe that? Well, Jesus didn’t dedicate the care of Mary to His siblings, insinuating that these siblings were not biologically related to His Mother. The implication is that none of these ‘brothers’ of Jesus had any responsibility for Mary; they may have been related to Christ, but not Mary.
The ‘first born’ argument:
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.-Luke 2:7
This is actually a verse used by Protestants to suggest that Mary didn’t remain a virgin all her life. They suggest that if Jesus is Mary’s ‘firstborn’, there must’ve been a second born and so on. But this is just plain stupid; you don’t have to wait until you have a second child in order to identify who your first child is! Whether you have one, or nine children, your firstborn is your firstborn regardless.
The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”- Exodus 13:1
If we follow the logic that Protestants use, Moses and the Israelites would not have been able to consecrate the firstborn of Israel’s people and livestock, until they had a second offspring. Obviously, that’s not the case; your firstborn child isn’t dependent on a second child for his/her status as firstborn.
What do the Church Fathers say?
The Church doesn’t believe that the Bible is the sole infallible source: the Church can also speak infallibly. Church tradition (that which has been handed down to us via the Holy Spirit) is also vital in understanding the entire Christian message. So what did the Church Fathers say about Marys’ virginity?
“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.” – St Jerome