This is the second in a series of four explanations of the Marian dogmas: number two, Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. The first is on her Divine Motherhood.
There are some who will come to this , with a persistent but subtle conviction that all of this crap about Mary amounts to just more Paganism, or to say the least, Catholics, yet again missing the simplicity of the Gospel by adding numerous complex man-made laws (which the apostle Paul clearly warns against.) In short, Protestants may say: he came to make it EASY! remember?
On this count, we must remind ourselves of two important truths. Firstly, Mary’s perpetual Virginity is hard because it’s true and it matters, as G. K. Chesterton explains in my first post on Mary’s being the Mother of God:
“It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world” (Shea, Mary Mother of the Son, Volume II, 28)
And as Mark Shea describes in Mary, Mother of the Son, Volume II,
Her virginity wasn’t a ‘stunt’ but a sign, and signs are crammed with meaning, signs signify. (Shea, II, 81-82)
We shall soon explore precisely what Mary’s perpetual virginity signifies.
But, as an adjunct to all of this, these truths exist in an ecosystem. The church has made these statements to protect truth, not to ‘create’ it, so to speak.
The supernatural Catholic faith, like the natural world, is a complex web of truth, love and power, that is just as perfectly balanced as any wetland on the shore of Puget South. As we have already seen, when one tries to remove some “pointless doctrine” like the Theotokos from this Supernatural ecosystem, one gets results similar to removing some “pointless” ozone layer from the atmosphere: a catastrophic upheaval and a whole series of unforeseen side effects.
(Shea, Mary Mother of the Son, Volume II, 56)
Let’s start by addressing some of the most commonly held objections to the Perpetual Virginity.
Some assume that the Bible contradicts the teaching that Mary is always a virgin, by saying that it speaks of Mary’s other kids, and her marital relations with Joseph. However, such confusion is pretty easy to clarify.
- Matt 1:25, “Joseph knew her not until she had borne a son,” for example doesn’t literally mean that Joseph knew Mary afterward, for in scripture, the word “until” should not always be taken to mean, “the same before but different afterward” (Shea, II, 58)
- 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?)
-Catholic Answers, The Case for Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
Other objections speak of “Jesus brothers” like, Mark 6:3, Matt 13:55-56 and Gal 1:19, where James is referred to as the Lord’s brother. However, Matthew 27:61, shows that the other Mary (i.e. not the Virgin Mary) is the mother of James and Joseph (Matt 27:56). However, the more important explanation for all this is revealed by Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s salutation that she would ‘conceive in her womb and bring forth a son’
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (Luke 1:34)
Mark Shea here has us consider a bride who responds to the statement “you are going to have such beautiful kids!” with “How shall this be?”
Either nobody has ever explained the birds and the bees to her, and she genuinely has no idea how babies are made and what she’s about to sign on for with her husband to-be…or she has every intention of remaining a virgin after marriage
(Shea, II, 61)
Beyond all this, the “Critic of the Perpetual Virginity has the gut sensation that…”
“It’s weird for a normal married couple to practice celibacy” And that might be an argument- if Joseph and Mary were a normal married couple and not the parents of the God of Israel (Shea, II, 60)
Now, having addressed some of the most common objections to Mary’s state of Perpetual Virginity, it should also be understood that there are consequences for denying the reality that Mary remained a virgin before, during and after Christ’s birth. For this truth protects other truths.
Firstly, Virginity, in scripture, is attached to consecration, and her perpetual virginity signifies the churches consecration to God.
We see this at the encounter of the wedding of Canaa at Galilee (John 2:1-11) where,
Mary, standing as a kind of icon of the whole Church in persistent and importunate prayer, chases Jesus until he catches her, and the courtship of Jesus and his bride the Church begins with Mary as the consecrated icon of the consecrated bride, saying, in effect “Maranatha! show yourself, O Lord!”
(Shea, II, 92)
There are other pertinent truths the dogma protects as well, for example, that God is in charge of salvation, which might be surprising for those convinced that Catholics cling to a self-sufficient mentality of “works” or doing good deeds to get into heaven (Shea, II, 82)
Her perpetual Virginity also affirms that in Mary we, that’s you and I, have a mother. She’s not just some stranger- for we are all family now, Jesus is our brother, the “firstborn of many brethren” (Rom 8:29) and he gives his disciples his own mother (John 19:25-27)
More particularly now, we find Mary’s perpetual virginity peculiar because it strikes at the heart of our culture’s stupid, immature and very particular perspective on virginity. Namely, that’s it’s weird and creepy, and indicative of some kind of intrinsic sexual malfunction in a person’s psyche.
Here I cite British comedian Stephen Fry’s statements on the Catholic church… “the twisted, neurotic and hysterical way that its leaders are chosen, the celibacy, the nuns, the monks, the priesthood, this is not natural and normal ladies and gentleman in 2009, it really isn’t, I’m sorry” (Fry, Intelligence Squared debate, The Catholic Church is not a Force for Good)
So, I end, on perhaps the most needed gift that Mary’s perpetual virginity gives us (apart from Jesus) You see, It confirms that virginity is awesome.
For virginity entails self-denial and, in some mysterious way, new life in God. It is a kind of sacrifice and, contrary to modern notions, it’s the sacrifice of something supremely good, not of something “dirty” (Shea, II, 83)
Certainly not because there’s something wrong with marriage. Indeed, it’s one of the great paradoxes of the Church that, while she exalts virginity as a higher estate than marriage, she simultaneously understands that Jesus established marriage- not virginity- as one of the seven sacraments. (Shea, II, 84)
Surrender, it’s terrifying- it feels like death (Shea, II, 100) But “Mary’s surrender to God leads to…the paradox of happiness through the cross.” (Shea, II, 95) Her purity isn’t sterile, it‘s fruitful.
And so is ours.
INVIOLATA, integra, et casta es Maria,
quae es effecta fulgida caeli porta.
INVIOLATE, spotless and pure art thou,
O Mary Who wast made the radiant gate of the King.
Our hearts and tongues now ask of thee
that our souls and bodies may be pure.
O benigna! O Regina! O Maria,
quae sola inviolata permansisti.
O gracious queen, O Mary,
who alone among women art inviolate.
Next post, the clincher, Dogma #3, The Immaculate Conception.