Thursday, November 27, 2014

More Early Opponents Of Mary's Perpetual Virginity

Tertullian and Helvidius are often named as early opponents of Mary's perpetual virginity, but other opponents of the concept seem to be mentioned less often. I've discussed some of them in recent posts, namely Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and Victorinus. What I want to do in this post is cite some other examples.

"In the West before Hilary - that is, up to the middle of the fourth century - there is no witness at all for the 'semper virgo' [perpetual virginity]; and that can hardly be a mere chance: see pp. 72 f. below. Hippolytus, too, regards the 'brothers of Jesus' as the children of Joseph and Mary... [apparently quoting Hippolytus:] 'He [Jesus] did [not] acknowledge as brothers those who were regarded as his brothers according to the body; the Redeemer did not acknowledge them, because in truth those [were] not his brothers who were born from Joseph through seed, but he from the Virgin and the Holy Spirit; and they regarded them as his brothers, but he did not acknowledge them.'" (Hans von Campenhausen, The Virgin Birth In The Theology Of The Ancient Church [Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2011], n. 4 on 48-9)

After making the claim that Hippolytus denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, and before quoting the passage above from Hippolytus, Campenhausen cites multiple pages from a French source I'm not familiar with, followed by a page from a German source I'm also not familiar with. So, he may have more to go by than this one passage in Hippolytus. But what should we conclude from the English translation he provides of that one passage?

If the brothers were "born from Joseph through seed", then Hippolytus at least believed they were children of Joseph from a former marriage, thus differing from the more popular view that they were cousins of Jesus or some other more distant type of relatives. But was he denying Mary's perpetual virginity?

Probably. To reconcile the passage with perpetual virginity, I think we'd have to take a few problematic steps. We'd have to assume a prior marriage of Joseph, which would be an unusual scenario and one not implied by the text. Second, if the relatives of Jesus in question were regarded as "brothers" without further qualification, the most natural way to take that term is as a reference to individuals with a biological relationship with both Joseph and Mary. If the individuals were all older than Jesus and older than Joseph's marriage to Mary, having been born during a former marriage, it's highly doubtful that they'd all be mistaken for biological offspring of Joseph and Mary. Third, we'd have to assume that Hippolytus failed to mention the first wife of Joseph (by description or name), even though mentioning her would have strengthened his point (by putting even more distance between Jesus and the brothers).

Why, then, does Hippolytus say that the individuals in question were "regarded" as brothers of Jesus? He can't be denying that they were brothers in any sense. Even in a perpetual virginity scenario involving children from a former marriage of Joseph, the individuals in question would be brothers in a legal context. So, all that Hippolytus seems to be getting at by using the "regarded" qualifier is that the men weren't brothers in the fullest sense, even though they were thought of that way. That would be true regardless of whether Mary was a perpetual virgin, so it's an irrelevant issue.

Here are some other examples of people who denied Mary's perpetual virginity:

"The radical, critical Arians such as Eudoxius and Eunomius disapproved of the perpetual virginity all along, and the cautious discussions that Basil the Great devotes to this subject show that it was not generally acknowledged, even in orthodox circles. Basil was concerned, as always, to avoid any unnecessary accentuation of hostilities between rival parties in the sphere of Church law. He emphasizes that the acceptance of Mary's perpetual virginity is not really necessary. A dogmatic judgment that simply maintained her virginity up to the birth of Jesus would be adequate, and thanks to the positive testimony in Matthew this fact remains all along beyond discussion. But Basil adds at once that the assertion that the Mother of God ever ceased to be a virgin could not well be tolerated by devout Christians...In the traditional style of the fight against heretics, he [Epiphanius] constructs for himself a sect of 'Antidicomarianites', who, of course, can have been induced only by the most sinister motives to defame the holy Virgin by casting doubt on her perpetual virginity....He [Ambrose] is indignant that there are people, even bishops, who can doubt her [Mary's] perpetual virginity" (ibid., 64-5, 77-8)

"Bonosus (d. c.400). A Bp. of Naissus (as Innocent I implies, epp. 16 and 17) or Sardica (acc. to Marius Mercator), who denied the perpetual virginity of the BVM. His teaching was examined at a council at Capua in 391 and subsequently condemned; but Bonosus refused to submit and founded a sect (the 'Bonosians') which survived down to the 7th cent....Acc. to St Augustine (De haer. 84), he [Helvidius] won disciples who were known as 'Helvidians'." (F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, edd., The Oxford Dictionary Of The Christian Church [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], 225, 749)

1 comment:

  1. Ben Witherington notes that some of the early opponents of PVM were on the margins of the Roman Empire and may have preserved earlier traditions. Or this is what I recall him saying in Women in the Ministry of Jesus.