Sunday, January 08, 2017

Perpetual virginity

i) What's the problem with asserting the perpetual virginity of Mary? The main problem with the Catholic interpretation is not that there's overwhelming evidence against their interpretation. The problem, rather, is taking pious legends for which there's no good evidence, or even some evidence to the contrary, then elevating those pious legends to the status of dogma so that Christians have a solemn obligation to believe it, on pain of sin or heresy if they refuse to submit. 

It's bad enough to impose on Christians a duty to believe something for which there's no good evidence, and say that if you refuse to do so, you are guilty of sin or heresy. It's even worse when not only is there no respectable positive evidence, but there's even some evidence that the legend is false.

ii) To begin with, there's just the standing presumption that the "brothers" and "sisters" are biological children of Mary and Joseph unless we have credible independent evidence that it's not the case. Unless you already know that can't be so, there's no justification for viewing them as cousins. So there has to be good evidence to overcome that presumption.

iii) We also know that the early church promoted the ideal of celibacy and demoted conjugal relations. So that's one reason to view these legends as having dubious pedigree.

iv) In addition, if Mary and Joseph had a platonic marriage, that creates a theological problem. According to Catholic canon law, as I understand it, even if a couple is married in a Catholic church, by a Catholic priest, using a Catholic marriage ceremony, that's an insufficient condition to make them truly married. For the ceremony must be ratified by consummation. Unless the rite is consummated, that's grounds for annulment.

The theory behind annulment is that marriage is indissoluble, so annulment doesn't dissolve the marriage. Rather, annulment is an official recognition that there was no real marriage in the first place, because one or more necessary conditions were lacking. Applied to the case of Joseph and Mary, a platonic marriage would mean they were never really married.

The theological problem that causes is that according to Matthew, Jesus is the royal heir of David, but he can't be David's royal heir unless he's David's descendent, and he can't be David's biological descendent through Joseph since Joseph is not his biological father, so he can only be David's legal descendent through Joseph if Joseph is his stepfather. Yet on the Catholic interpretation, Joseph isn't even his stepfather. 

Perhaps a Catholic would say the pope can waive consummation as a necessary condition for marriage in the particular case of Joseph and Mary, but that's an ad hoc exemption. 

v) I'd add that there's a drastic asymmetry in this debate. On the one hand, Protestants have no real stake in this debate. Suppose Mary was a perpetual virgin. That changes nothing in Protestant theology. No adjustments required.

On the other hand, if Mary and Joseph had conjugal relations, that instantly falsifies Catholicism. It's a package deal. If any Catholic dogma is wrong, that single-handedly sinks Catholicism. 


  1. Did Mary Have Other Children? Debate between Eric Svendsen vs Gerry Matatics

  2. The problem you've introduced in your opening paragraph is one of semantics for which you've chosen yours carefully to justify your conclusion. Let me re-phrase your opening paragraph with minor semantic and sentence structure changes and a painful addition:
    "What's the problem with asserting the perpetual virginity of Mary? There is no problem as there is no overwhelming evidence against it. The problem, rather, is taking pious TRUTHS for which there is no overwhelming evidence to the contrary, then elevating those pious TRUTHS to the status of dogma so that Christians have a solemn obligation to believe it, on pain of sin or heresy if they refuse to submit TO THE TRUTH. SUBSEQUENTLY, SINCE I DON'T WANT TO BELIEVE IT TO BE TRUE; OR MORESO SUBMIT TO THE AUTHORITY THAT PROFESSES IT - THAT'S A HUGE PROBLEM.”
    At this point I'm sure you have a PROBLEM with me ascribing as TRUTH that which you purport as LEGEND and authoritative that which you reject. As for me, I ascribe to what St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Irenaeus of Lyons demonstrated - that Mary is indeed ever-virgin. The former was a disciple of the apostle John and the latter was a disciple of Polycarp who was also a disciple of the apostle John (who happened to live with Mary after Jesus’ death at Jesus’ instruction because she had no other children under Jewish law to care for her). Perhaps these were the sources you considered as LEGEND. I could add several other references and quotes from early Church Fathers from the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries (e.g., Epiphanius, Didymus the Blind, Ambrose of Milan, Pope Siricius I, St. Augustine), or even those of the earliest Protestant reformers (e.g., Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Bullinger, Wesley), but I don’t see the point as I’m sure these would be classified as LEGEND also.
    Regarding the "theological problem," as I understand it Mary and Joseph were not subject to canon law as Jesus was not yet born and had not given the keys to the kingdom to Peter (see also Isaiah 22:20-22); so, Jesus hadn’t established His Church and its power to bind and loose had not yet been granted. Perhaps you'd be better off suggesting that canon law should add a provision that if God wants His Holy Spirit to beget another virgin birth, then in that case canon law should be altered to waive the consummation requirement. I will reach out to the Papacy on your behalf with this suggestion.
    As for Protestant Theology, you ascribe the truth of Mary's perpetual virginity changes nothing - no changes required; EXCEPT perhaps to reach out to any one of thousands of Protestant denominations and ask them to stop insisting she had other children and wasn't ever-virgin so the light of truth is taught and not the darkness of deceit; and possibly the undesired change of subjection to appropriate authority.
    As for your final statement that if Mary and Joseph had conjugal relations, that instantly falsifies Catholicism – I agree. Praise God they didn’t making this a moot point.
    Finally, you fail to consider perhaps the most important question of all – why did God in His providence choose a virgin in the first place? I’m going to spitball here and say that He sees purity (dare I offend you further by saying an “immaculate” purity) as being extremely important both in His entrance to the world and as an example for those of us in it who aspire to be in union with Him as coincidentally enough Mary was when she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceived Jesus.
    In closing, I beg your forgiveness for no doubt pompously offending you; when it comes to truth about Jesus, His mother Mary, and the Church He established, I have a short fuse.
    May the Grace, Peace, and most importantly Truth of the Lord Jesus Christ always be with you.

    1. I) You don't provide any direct quotes from Ignatius or Irenaeus.

      ii) The implicit form of your argument is that X (Ignatius) knew Y (John) who knew Z (Mary), therefore X has detailed information about Z. Or W (Irenaeus) knew X (Polycarp) who knew Y (John) who knew Z (Mary), therefore W has detailed information about Z.

      That's a highly unreliable inference. To take a comparison, I don't remember anything about my paternal grandfather because he died when I was about 2. Everything I know about him is based on what my parents told me about him. Although I know some things about him via my parents, that's confined to just a few anecdotes. By the same token, I know two or three things about my paternal great-grandfather based on what my father told me about him. But apart from that, I know next to nothing about my paternal great-grandfather. I could say the same thing about my maternal great-grandmother.

      A chain-of-custody can give us some reliable information about a person two or three steps removed from ourselves, but that's a very sparse sampling. We barely know anything about them aside from a few anecdotes. You are claiming very specific information that isn't justified by your friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend sourcing.

      iii) The question at issue isn't whether canon law was operative in the time of Mary and Joseph. The question is whether the moral principles later codified in canon law are timeless. Do you think canon law has no basis in natural law? Is the consummation requirement an arbitrary stipulation, or does that have a basis in natural law?

      iv) Your appeal to Protestant Reformers is a red herring. I don't view Protestant Reformers as authority figures. And there's no reason to think they had special access to evidence I don't have regarding the alleged perpetual virginity of Mary. They had the same information the rest of us have.

      v) In addition, your appeals are equivocal. In Catholic theology, the perpetual virginity of Mary includes her in partu virginity. Do any of the sources you appealed to vouch for her in partu virginity?

      vi) How would anyone be in a position to know that her hymen was intact?

      vii) So you're saying conjugal relations render a woman impure. Are you celibate? Do you have a platonic marriage? Do you think sex within marriage is impure?