02 November 2009

A question. . .

Please do not pillar me or think ill of me for this, but in discussions on my own blog the perpetual virginity of Mary arose. It should not shock folks here that I am dubious of this tradition. However, I know many good men are here who hold this tradition dearly, and so I ask this (not with the bombast of my own website) out of a desire to learn.

I will contend that what we teach must be in alignment with the Scriptures - that even if we cannot cite a specific Scriptural reference saying, "Thou shall do this" that our actions fall in line with teaching of Scripture - that what we say and do confesses the teaching of Scripture. What Scriptural truth does the Perpetual Virginity of Mary teach - what truth of Christian doctrine does it align with?

I'm not here seeking an exegetical discussion of whether brother means cousin, or whether or not it is plausible from Scripture, or even of the historical attestation to this theory - but rather, what theological benefit is there from claiming the Semper Virgo?

To me, it's troublesome. It seems to do damage to the Scriptural teachings of marriage (marriage is for procreation, a husband shall become one flesh with his wife, do not withhold yourself from your spouse -- if Mary remains Semper Virgo, does she not contradict all these teachings on marriage?) and also teachings on virginity (which is always exercised outside the estate of marriage).

Those of you who hold to this - what benefit, what clarity about God and His Word does it bring to you? I seek (honestly and sincerely) simply to understand why this is so important to so many.

In fact, to keep this from becoming a huge, blowup discussion, I'm not going to respond - I am not looking for a discussion here - but rather simply to listen. What do we learn about the Christian faith from the Semper Virgo?


Note: If I may be so bold - would others who like me are dubious of the Semper Virgo also remain silent here (if this agitates you, by all means feel free to post elsewhere. . . my own blood pressure may dictate me joining you -- I hope not, but it may).

I would hope the comments simply to be people speaking what they think on the pros of this topic - not necessarily forced to make an passionate defense of them -- that happens all too often, and soon passion becomes the focus of such heated arguments).


Chad Myers said...

Ok, I think I get it: You're looking for a more philosophical "why?" instead of a set of proof texts and (scriptural) evidence, right? It's interesting to me, because that's the easier of the two sides of the coin in convincing someone (usually an Evangelical) that Mary is important in the practice of Christian faith.

So let's assume, for the moment, that you buy the scriptural proofs and are willing, at least temporarily to grant that Mary may have been perpetually virgin.

First of all, Christ says that there is merit for those who will make themselves eunuchs for his cause (Matthew 19:12). Christ even goes so far as to allude that it is a grace received from God ('He that are able to receive it, let Him receive it'). This applies also to Women who vowed virginity.

It was also a common practice in Jesus' time for families to dedicate one or more daughters to the temple and vow virginity. Eventually the temple would marry them off to a man in 'good standing' (a widower, or an older man who is not able to have children, etc). "tradition" (little 't') has it that Mary may have been one of these daughters.

Paul later talks about the benefits of remaining celibate and even cautions the religious leaders from getting married unless they are unable to resist sexual temptations.

The point is that, while Marriage is preferred for the population in general, there are those special individuals who will renounce the married life and children to dedicate themselves to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now, why is this important? While it makes better logical sense that Mary only had one child (would Jesus' brothers be "half-God"?), it certainly wasn't required that God act out his will that way. "Important but not Required" is how I've heard it described.

It is important because it signals a purity about Mary. That she was created for a singular purpose: To say 'Yes' to God and be a living symbol of his love to us here on Earth.

The special relationship between Mary and Jesus was so special that if she had other children, it might have clouded or detracted somehow from that first special relationship.

Christ gave Mary to US to ALL OF US to be OUR Mother along with his. If Mary had other children, then there would be a pecking order: Her other children would be more important and favored than us.

Mary now has the biggest family any mother could ever hope to have and there is no pecking order other than Christ-first as it should be.

I could go on and on, but I'm probably boring you now.

Keep in mind, I was Lutheran and was more of the mindset that Mary was "God's incubator" and hardly worthy of more reverence than my own Mother or some lady on the street. Reading more about her in Scriptures and hearing more about other people's devotions to her (especially Christ's devision to her) has taught me that it is not an either/or proposition (choose Mary or Christ), it's a both/and proposition: By loving Mary also, I love Christ more fully.

Chad Myers said...

oops: "Christ's devision to her" should be "Christ's devotion to her"

Kathy said...

It's funny how our society can't grasp the idea of celibacy. Why would Mary have gone on to have sex after what happened to her? I can't imagine any woman, after having been impregnated in such a supernatural way by God, would go on to have any intimate relations with a man. To do so would demean what God did for you.

Mary was really "married" to the Holy Spirit. Joseph understood this and he and Mary remained chaste.

Here's a good article from an Orthodox priest:

Greg Grose said...

pillory, not pillar

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

ACK! Pillory me not over my improper use of "pillar"!!!! >=o)

(I don't count this here as a true comment)

Extollager said...

I'm not strongly persuaded by either view, but here's something that might be worth considering with regard to Mary's perpetual virginity.

Our Lord Himself didn't marry and father children. The obvious explanation is that His mission precluded the exercise of fatherly duties. I have thought, though, that He may have forgone these blessings because, had He done so, there would inevitably have been a sacred "caste" in the Church, of His blood-descendants.

His mother may have borne no more children in part for the same reason. I'm aware of James "the brother of the Lord." I accept that James may have been the son of Mary and Joseph. If he was, did /he/ forgo marriage and children for the same reason?

Outside the trashy inventions of popular novelists and so on, it seems clear that the blood-family of our Lord quickly became extinct.

If I'm correct about this, then one theological value of the perpetual virginity of Mary would be that it relates to His resolute declaration that His Kingdom is not of this world. He and His family may have recognized that, human nature being what it is, such self-denial was necessary lest a blood-caste begin.

I would welcome any criticisms that would show me evidence I may well have overlooked. If it isn't appropriate to get into that here, please feel free to email me at extollager2006 AT yahoo.com.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

I think the comments above show the reason why Pieper, following his discussion of clauso utero (noting that Calvinists reject it because of their faulty Christology) and semper virgo (Vol. II pp 306-309), says "it is best not to spend too much time on it."

At the same time on p. 308 he states, "If the Christology of a theologian is orthodox in all other respects, he is not to be regarded as a heretic for holding that Mary bore other chldren in a natural manner after she had given birth to the Son of God."

So Pieper sees that the issue as Christological and that the default Lutheran position is semper virgo. He also states that "We must emphatically object when those who assume that Jesus had natural brothers pride themselves on their more delicate 'exegetical conscience' and disparage those who hold the opposite view."

Let's be clear though as to what is clear from the Scripture, St. Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God, is not our mother as has been referenced above; that is reserved for the Holy Bride of Christ, the Church, Jerusalem the free.

Galatians 4:21-27 - "Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “ Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.”

Blessed Dr. Martin Luther comments on this passage, "Therefore Sarah, or Jerusalem, our free mother, is the church, the bride of Christ, who gives birth to all. She goes on giving birth to children without interruption until the end of the world, as long as she exercises the ministry of the Word, that is, as long as she preaches and propogates the Gospel; for this is what it means for her to give birth. Now she teaches the Gospel in such a way that we are set free from the curse of the Law and works, but through Christ. Therefore the Jerusalem that is above, that is, the church, is not subject to the Law and works; but she is free adn is a mother without Law, sin, or death. And as the mother is, so are the children to whom she gives birth." AE 26:41

Holy Mary, mother of God, is not our mother, that the Word of her Son reserves for His Bride the church; a member of which is His very mother.


Fr BFE said...

I'll have a run at this, as none of the previous comments have quite expressed my own sentiments as to the Christological significance of semper virgo.

It ultimately has to do with coming to terms with the fact of the Incarnation. Here's what I mean: generally--though not in every case--it seems to obtain that among people who reject semper virgo there is a corresponding view that the BVM was nothing really unique. She is given the nod as the mother of Jesus, even (grudgingly) the mother of God, but these are merely names, and anyone can live with names.

What I find particularly helpful among medieval and early meditations on the Virgin--although there are excesses--is evidence of an eagerness to grapple with the reality of the miracle of Christ's conception in her womb. This eagerness is something I sense has been lost on us.

Luther similarly opines somewhere that there is great gain to be had from meditation on the term "Mother of God."

The fact is that Mary is unique. The miracle that happened within her was a sharp and singular break from the ordinary manner of human reproduction. This miracle was enacted upon her flesh, resulting in the Incarnation of God within her. She became the vessel for Him who holds heaven and earth, and it was of her flesh that He partook. This is something that really cannot be parsed and analyzed as much as it can be wondered at. At such moments we must become more inclined simply to revere and adore than merely to understand.

And this reality means that she is no ordinary vessel any longer. Something has really and verifiably changed: the nativity of our Lord is an incontrovertible verification of the miracle.

Since this is so, it seems to me that the whole Church--including, incidentally, Joseph--must set this vessel apart from all others on earth.

She is the Holy Grail. One does not use the Holy Grail to drink milk or beer.

I would think that of all people struck by this reality, Joseph would have to be first. Remember also doubting Joseph, how it was necessary for the intervention of an angel to correct him on this matter. Would he not become reticent about taking this vessel into his chamber for common use? No law forbade it, but that's not the issue: she has become the theotokos. That changes things, really and physically.

I think I'll cross post this over at my own blog, as I may have more to say about it. Thanks for bringing this up, Eric.

Chad Myers said...

(note: Rev. Eric:, this isn't a directly reply to you, but a reply to a comment -- given the rules you set up for this thread, I won't be offended if you delete this comment. I understand if you consider this 'out of bounds')

@Rev. BT Ball: I'd like you clarify your comments about "[She] is not our Mother."

In John 19:26-27, when Christ, on the cross, said to Mary: "Woman, behold your son." and to "the disciple"(presumably John), "Behold, your mother" -- what is your exegesis here?

Fr BFE said...

. . . and if Christ is my brother, then . . .

Chad Myers said...

First, Christ gave His Mother to us. Second, Christ, by becoming human, made himself our brother. In fact, people talk about the brothers (followers) of Christ and he does not correct them. (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02767a.htm)

Mary is our spiritual Mother, Christ is our spiritual brother.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

well if we are going to ask questions about exegesis, I quoted the Bible first (Galatians 4)where it clearly states who our mother is. How about your exegesis of that?

Regarding St. John 19:26-27, St. John lets you know what this is about, as you left out the 2nd half of verse 27; "And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home." Which means he provided for her. The Son of God, as her first born saw to her provision and her needs through His beloved disciple. More could be said here devotionally or homiletically, but it is quite clear from verse 27 itself what John took Jesus words to mean - take her into your home and care for her as you would your own mother, provide, watch over etc.

The thing about Lutherans is that the source of doctrine is the sacred scripture and the sacred scripture clearly says something about who our mother is - the New Jerusalem, the Holy Church.

Also, Christ is more than our spiritual brother, He IS our Brother, He even says so.

"Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” St. Mark 3:31-35

Again, my objection is that the Scriptures do not speak of Blessed Mary as our mother, but reserves this term for the Holy Church. We are not to speak such words where the Lord Himself has not spoken them, and particularly He has spoken something else to be fact.

Fr. Eckardt-
another human being in the womb of Blessed Mary cannot be compared to milk nor beer, for a child is a creation of God in His own image. I'm not advocating that she is not semper virgo, but mankind is the glory of creation, much higher than milk, beer or even the angels in heaven. Again, I tend to defer to Dr. Pieper's wisdom in discussing this matter, less words the better.


Chad Myers said...

So it's an either/or, not both/and situation?

And Jesus, after saying many important things on the cross, meant nothing important by "Behold, your son" other than "Hey John, could you look after my Mother when I'm gone? thanks." Non sequitur.

"Behold" is a phrase that usually prefixes a rather dramatic and important statement -- especially when spoken by Christ.

You say scripture 'reserves' this term (Mother). Where does it 'reserve' the term Mother? In fact, it seems that Christ implies that Mary is our Mother and the Church is our Mother also.

Christ says that Mary is our Mother. He says that any one who follows the will of God is his brother, sister, and Mother.

Also, if Mary is the Mother of Christ, and Christ is married to the Church, would that not make Mary Mother of the Church?

And if the Church is our Mother, and we are the Church, doesn't that make Mary our Mother as well?

I'm still not sure why you draw an either/or (seemingly) false dichotomy here instead of a both/and symmetry. This dichotomy is not really attested to in scripture nor has that ever really been the understanding of Christians until the past few centuries.

Fr BFE said...

Fr. Ball, I did not mean to liken other children to milk or beer, i.e. common things, but the other use of the birth canal, if you catch my drift. That is a common thing--not that it's a bad thing--but then again, milk and beer and not bad things either.

And on this: "Christ is more than our spiritual brother, He IS our Brother, He even says so," I think you're providing fuel against your position. Since Christ is our brother, then wouldn't we share the same mother?

Moreover, on the passage you cite, that Jesus' mother and brothers and sisters are those who keep the will of God, it seems to me that by your logic we would have to conclude that Mary is not Jesus' real mother.

This is partly a matter of semantics, or even of poetry, I'll grant. But I would think you could come to the point of granting, conversely, that there is no impropriety in calling the BVM our mother. Traditionally as you know she has been called our Lady as well; I would presume there's no objecting to that.

Extollager said...

"Extollager" above is yours truly, Dale Nelson.

(Sorry -- I overlooked the request that commenters post using their names, and used my usual Net handle.)

Peter said...
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Peter said...
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Fr. Timothy D. May said...


I think you actually state the "official" or "majority" position (at least among protestants and confessionals) so it really is not a difficult thing to reiterate. This is a difficult teaching and either position on this teaching does not negate the Incarnation, the due honor of Mary or the sanctity of marriage.

The logic of connecting the teaching of "semper virgo" to Zionism escapes me. It is hard for me to discern here whether this is a simple characterization or if there is actual theological substance to this connection. I had not heard this brought up in discussions on the topic in past years.

Anyway, although today, in our circles, we can rally the troops on this teaching with little difficulty I still find it interesting that the dead church fathers, including many that we like to quote on our blogs, would hold a different position. There must be some reason why they held the semper virgo even though it was likely and clearly the minority position in their circles.

Oh well, I do appreciate that the issue is still being talked about.