Mary's perpetual virginity

This is another truth which the Catholic Church holds to, but which is not of highest priority for salvation in terms of the Hierarchy of Truths.

There may be considered to be a mean agenda behind this observation, namely to either prove that Mary, the mother of Jesus was not of a saintly disposition but just a random little Jewess, or otherwise, to discredit the teaching of the Catholic Church.
Matthew 13:55,56  'Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?'

It should not at all be the intention of Christians to throw the mud of average humanity at the Mother of Jesus, who as the new Ark of the Covenant is of special importance to God. Whereas untrained readers of the Bible may need things explained, Scripture scholars should be slow to suggest that Mary has other children than Jesus, because they would know that a) the words ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in Aramaic culture were also used to refer to cousins, uncles and other close relatives, not only siblings; b) the people listed as ‘brothers of Jesus’ are shown to be sons of other women in the Scripture, thereby proving the flexible use of the words in Aramaic culture.

As Patrick Madrid (‘Where is That in the Bible?’) describes particularly well:

“The Bible nowhere says that Mary had other children besides Jesus. Nor does the Bible ever refer to anyone beside Jesus as the “son of Mary”.

Some passages refer, however to the “brothers of the Lord”, and these passages (Matthew.12:46-48; 13:55-56; 27:56) are sometimes invoked in an attempt to disprove the Catholic Church’s teaching that Mary was a perpetual virgin.

Notice that in these passages, such as in Matthew 13, two of the four men mentioned by name and called “brothers of the lord” are actually sons of another Mary, the wife of Cleophas (cf. James and Joseph:

Matthew 27:56  'among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee'.
Compare with:
John. 19:25  'These things therefore the soldiers did. But there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.'

In Hebrew and Aramaic languages, as they were spoken at the time of Christ, there was no word for cousin or uncle or some other close relative. All close relatives were referred to simply as “brother” or “sister”. And though in Greek there are specific words for these relationships, it is quite reasonable to assume that the Greek word for brother (adelphos) was employed even in instances where it would have been more precise to call someone a cousin or a nephew.

Note also that at the “finding in the Temple” episode of the Gospel:
Luke 2:43-51  'When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.   And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, 'Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.'  He said to them, 'Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?  But they did not understand what he said to them.  Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.'

No “other children” of Mary and Joseph are mentioned, only Jesus. If there had been other children in the Holy Family, it is reasonable to assume they would have been mentioned here. The fact that no other sons or daughters were even alluded to here, is a strong indication that there were no others.

Also Scripture only refers to Christ as “the” son of Mary, but never as “a” son of Mary, which we would expect if there were other sons.

Finally, as we see in John 19, Christ entrusted his mother to the Apostle John, a man outside the family, though a close friend. This arrangement would not have been acceptable, or even necessary, if there were in fact other sons of Mary available to take care of her after Christ’s death. The fact that he entrusted his mother to John is powerful evidence in favour of the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

One final point can be made here. In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, we glimpse a mystical foreshadowing of Mary’s perpetual virginity. The symbolism is found in the “East Gate” that Ezekiel describes as part of his vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. That gate is perpetually sealed. No one is permitted to pass through it except for one person: the Prince of Israel (Christ).

Ezekiel 44:1  'Then he brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. '
Ezekiel 44:2 'And Jehovah said unto me, This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter in by it; for Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it; therefore it shall be shut.'
Ezekiel 44:3  'As for the prince, he shall sit therein as prince to eat bread before Jehovah; he shall enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.'

Patrick Madrid – ‘Where is That in the Bible? – Our Sunday Visitor Publishers
A Vow of Virginity
Scott Hahn also observes astutely that Mary’s question in Luke 1:34 is a telling one.
“There the angel Gabriel appears to Mary – who was then betrothed to Joseph – and tells her that she will conceive a son. Mary responds: “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” (Luke 1:27-34).

Now this would be an odd question if Mary had planned to have normal marital relations with her husband. The angel had told her only that she would conceive a son, which is a commonplace event in marriage. … Mary should have known exactly “how shall this be.” It would happen in the normal course of nature.
But that, apparently, was beyond the realm of possibility for her. The unspoken assumption behind her question is that, even though she was betrothed, she should not have an opportunity to conceive a child. How can that be? Some commentators speculate that Mary must have vowed virginity from an early age, and that Joseph knew of her vow, accepted it, and eventually took it on himself. … we do find examples of celibacy in the time of Jesus, evidenced by Jesus Himself and by Saint Paul, among others. The Dead Sea Scrolls attest that celibacy was a common practice of some Israelite sects. So it is not unthinkable that Mary could not have vowed virginity.”
(Scott Hahn – ‘Hail Holy Queen – The Mother of God in the Word of God’.)

Those who question Mary’s virginity don’t have a page of Scripture to stand on, and the Tradition of the Church back to the early Church Fathers is against them.

Respect not Conversion
It is not our intention to convert Protestants to believe or agree with Catholic teaching, but to demonstrate and reassure any Protestant reader of the intellectual integrity of the Catholic Church’s interpretation of Holy Scripture, and particularly on these pages, the Catholic understanding of the role of the Virgin Mary – “the handmaid of the Lord “ in God’s plans for mankind.
We hope that to demonstrate that each of the respective Catholic beliefs about the Virgin Mary is rooted in the Bible and Christ-centred is a valid biblical interpretation for the Catholic Church to make, which our Protestant brothers and sisters should be able to respect.

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