Introduction

From childhood we subscribed to that article of faith about Mary being the mother of Jesus Christ, and Jesus being her only child. True, there are many Catholics who hold tenaciously to this belief, with the elementary catechism (question and answer catechism) as their only proof. At the same time, there are many protestant claims (anchored on scriptural passages) that Mary bore other children than Jesus. This research is simply an attempt to present more in-depth accounts in this regard, to affirm the lifelong virginity of Mary, who bore Jesus Christ, who is God, as her only child. For clarity sake, the word “Church”, as used in this work, represents the Catholic Church.

Who is Mary?

As far as the crux of this research is concerned, we can understand the person and role of Mary only within the context of Jesus’ mission on earth. We learnt from the apostle that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…in order to redeem[1] those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5). The main narrative is rendered in the first and second chapters of St. Luke’s gospel. The gospel presents Mary as the Mother of the Messiah (Saviour) Jesus Christ (the incarnate Son of God), through whom he works outs his mysteries concerning the salvation of mankind. Since God chose Mary to belong to him alone and to keep herself entirely for his disposal, he gave her the gift of perpetual virginity.[2] Thus the Church calls her “The glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.[3]

The Controversial Biblical Passages

The fact that Protestants base their claims on scriptural passages invariably throws some Catholics off balance. The main question however should be the correctness of the interpretation given to the text in question. Let us have a look at some of them. In Mark’s gospel, the congregation in the synagogue asks of Jesus, “Who is he but the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joset and Judas and Simon? His sisters, too are they not here among us?” (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55). And John writes that after Jesus performed his first miracle in Cana, “he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers and his disciples; and they stayed there for a few days” (John 2:12). Another one which is usually misinterpreted is recorded thus in Matthew’s gospel: “When Joseph awoke from sleep…he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25). It is on these and other similar biblical passages that Protestants base their claim of the possibility of Mary having other children.

The Church’s Response: Biblical Passages and Theological Positions

The Church holds that the Greek expression translated “until” in Matthew 1:25, does not imply that Joseph had marital relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. Catholic doctrine has taught from tradition that not only was Mary a virgin at the moment of the birth of the Saviour, but she remained a virgin throughout her life. The perpetual virginity affirms the unique character of Mary’s role in the plan of salvation as the special instrument of the Incarnation.[4] It is possible that those passages that refer to Jesus’ brothers and sisters reflect Semitic usage, by which these terms could refer to a wider range of family members and were not restricted to actual blood siblings. The Greek word used in the New Testament for brother is adelphos, which could mean a brother, whether born of the same two parents or only of the same father or mother having the same national ancestor, belonging to the same people, or countryman, a fellow believer, or one united to another by the bond of affection.[5] James, the alleged brother of Jesus later became the leader of the congregation in Jerusalem (Acts 12: 17; 15:13; 21:18; James 1:1) and is referred to as “the Lord’s brother” by Paul (Gal 1:19; 2:9, 12).[6]

There is an apocryphal book, highly authoritative on account of its antiquity which may go back as far as the first decade of the 2nd century, the Protogospel of James. According to Johannes Quasten, the principal aim of the whole writing is to prove the perpetual and inviolate virginity of Mary before, in and after the birth of Christ” (Patrology, 1:120-121). From this book we learn that Mary’s birth cum mission was pre-announced, and she was vowed to a life of perpetual virginity. The text pictures Joseph as an elderly widower who already had children, and was chosen to be the spouse of Mary. This would explain why Joseph was apparently dead by the time of Jesus’ adult ministry, since he does not appear during it in the gospels.[7] Origen maintains that this account was fitting so as to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her (Commentary on Matthew 2:17, A.D. 248).[8]

Furthermore, Hilary of Poitiers maintains that “if they (the brethren of the Lord) had been Mary’s sons, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion (crucifixion) to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ (John 19:26-27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate” (Commentary on Matthew 1:4, A.D. 354). Didymus the Blind also notes that we come to understand the terms ‘first-bon’ and ‘only-begotten’ when Matthew tells that Mary remained a virgin until she brought forth her first born son. For neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone else, nor did she ever become the Mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever an immaculate virgin (The Trinity 3:4, A.D. 386).[9] Pope Siricus I offers a powerful thought in defense of Mary’s perpetual virginity: “You had good reason to be horrified at the thought that another birth might issue from the same virginal womb from which Christ was born according to the flesh. For the Lord Jesus would never have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the eternal king” (Letter to Bishop Anysius, A.D. 392). Augustine continues: “…when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?” (Sermons 186:1, A.D. 411).[10] For Augustine, saying that Mary was joined as one with her husband after the birth of Jesus is a heresy.

Conclusion

The main aim of the Church’s position as represented above is simply to capture what the Church means today when she says, as a way of honoring Mary, “Blessed Mary Ever Virgin”. Those who are of contrary views must understand that virginity is a gift of God when it is chosen in order for one to belong to him alone and to keep oneself entirely for his disposal. It is a gift which the Spirit gave to Mary, as he had given her the gift of her immaculate conception. Mary’s life cannot be understood better outside the context of her incorporation into the salvific plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 Amorth G., The Gospel of Mary, India: St Pauls, 2005.

Farmer, W., The International Bible Commentary: An Ecumenical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century, Bangalore: Theological Publications, 2015, 1327.

Glazier M., & Hellwig M. (eds.), The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1994.

Komonchak, et al. (eds.), The New Dictionary of Theology, Bangalore: Theological Publications, 2014.

Mary Ever Virgin, http://www.catholic.com/tract/mary-ever-virgin, accessed January 13, 2019,  10:30 pm.

New Testament Greek Lexicon,                                              http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/adelphos.html, accessed January 13, 2019, 09:50 pm.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Revised Edition), New Delhi: Indira Printers, 2008.

 The Holy Bible: The New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Bangalore: Theological Publications, 2014.

Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery, India: St Pauls, 2007.

[1] Italics mine

[2] Amorth G., The Gospel of Mary, (India: St Pauls, 2005), 17.

[3][3] Lumen Gentium 52.

[4] Farmer, W., The International Bible Commentary: An Ecumenical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century, (Bangalore: Theological Publications, 2015), 1327.

[5] New Testament Greek Lexicon, http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/adelphos.html, accessed January 13, 2019, 09:50 pm.

[6] Farmer, W., The International Bible Commentary: An Ecumenical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century, (Bangalore: Theological Publications, 2015), 1365.

[7] http://www.catholic.com/tract/mary-ever-virgin, accessed January 13, 2019, 10:30 pm.

[8] http://www.catholic.com/tract/mary-ever-virgin, accessed January 13, 2019, 10:30 pm.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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