Mary, Ever Virgin


1. Why do Catholics think Mary was always a virgin?

Because the Bible teaches it, and because the doctrine in itself is holy. We'll begin with the Bible, which, in John chapter 19, verses 26 to 27, shows us the virgin Mary taken into the care of Jesus' beloved disciple, rather than a next-born son, as she should have been if any had been available to take her after the death of her first-born. Why would Jesus arrange to give her to the care of someone else, if her care was already the responsibility of one of His supposed brothers? Why would He even *need* to prepare for her care-taking, except because the ordinary custom of next-born sons taking over their mother's care wasn't possible in the case of an only son. John 19 indicates that Mary had no child but Jesus in the fact that Jesus makes final preparations for His mother as though He were an only child.

Luke chapter 1 also implies our doctrine. An angel arrives to announce to Mary, a virgin who intends to marry, that she will soon bear a child. As a virgin she should not be surprised, if she was prepared to lose her virginity to her husband; but she asks, "How shall this be, since I do not know man?" (Luke 1:34) But why does she ask how she is to conceive, unless she does not intend to? She is getting married, but intends not to have children, for if she intended to have children, she would not ask how it was to happen. The angel did not say she would conceive prior to her upcoming marriage, and anyone getting married would naturally take the news of becoming pregnant as a part of their getting married. But Mary does ask. She was therefore not expecting to lose her virginity, even though she was getting married. And that implies precisely what we teach: that she did not lose her virginity at any time, not during her marriage and certainly not after, for she did not remarry.

2. Luke 1:34 is taken out of context. There's no evidence that Mary had a vow of virginity.

But Luke 1:34 itself is evidence. A woman who was getting married, but intended not to have children, could only be explained at that time as a woman under a vow of virginity. Otherwise, how would she expect any other outcome? Anyone at that time who was having sex would naturally expect children. Mary did not expect children; therefore, she was not expecting to have sex. From Luke chapter 1 we know this. Mary was betrothed to marriage (Luke 1:27) but she did not intend to have children (Luke 1:34). Together, these facts imply the only sensible solution: she had a vow not to be sexually active with her husband.

3. Luke 1:34 only means Mary didn't see how she could conceive a son before she was married.

It doesn't say that. The angel told Mary, a woman betrothed to be married, that she would conceive and bear a child; any betrothed person would naturally take that news as a part of their getting married. But she does not, she knows that, regardless of the upcoming wedding, she is not getting pregnant the natural way; she is not going to "know a man," in other words, and she says this right to the angel. He responds that the pregnancy will be from God, to show that she need not lose her virginity for this revelation from God to come true. This all implies that her concern was not to lose her virginity; this, coming from a woman who, to all ordinary minds, should be *preparing* to lose her virginity, should be a surprising turn, at least; and if you interpret it reasonably, it implies that she was not preparing to lose her virginity.

4. The Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters. Mary couldn't have been a virgin if she had other children.

A few passages mention several brothers and sisters of Jesus. But there are other explanations for their relationship to Jesus other than the idea that they came from Mary's womb. The easiest explanation is that brothers and sisters in that region can mean any close relatives, cousins or second-cousins or other things like that. This can be proven not only from present-day usage in that region, but also from Biblical usage. For example, in Genesis 12:5, Lot is Abraham's brother's son; in Genesis 13:8, he is called Abraham's brother. Thus he was his nephew, but was called his brother. And if Abraham's nephew could be called his brother, why couldn't Jesus' cousins be called His brothers and sisters? So the fact that people were called Jesus' brothers and sisters does not in fact imply that Mary had other children. It may just mean she had nieces and nephews. We certainly can't give up Mary's ever-virginity, since it is so powerfully proven in Scripture. And since there are other explanations for these brothers and sisters, there is no reason not to accept it.

5. Those other children were called brothers, not cousins. Greek has a different word for cousin:  anepsios.

Greek does have a word for cousin, but the Jews of that time used the word brother to refer to them anyway, and they still do this today. They probably used cousin and brother and sister interchangeably. In any case, because of the Biblical and contextual usage of the term, the idea that Mary lost her virginity cannot be proven from the use of the term brother in describing some of Jesus' relatives. And besides, even if your argument was true it would only prove that the Biblical writers had to use the term anepsios rather than brother to refer to cousins. It would not rule out that these brothers and sisters were other kinds of relatives. The fact is, these people who are called His brothers and sisters could be more distant relatives because the term for brothers and sisters included more distant relatives. But we know for a fact that these brothers and sisters were not from Mary's womb, because Scripture and Sacred Tradition both affirm that Mary was perpetually a virgin.

6. The Bible says Joseph "knew her not till she bore her firstborn son." He must have "known" her afterward.

Not at all. The use of the word till doesn't mean the situation reversed after Jesus was born. If I say may God bless you till I get back, does that mean He should stop blessing you afterward? If I say "Michal the daughter of Saul had no children till the day of her death," (2 Sam. 6:23) does that mean she must have had children afterward? And if the Bible says Joseph knew Mary not till she bore her firstborn son, that does not mean he must have known her afterward. "It didn't happen till that day" is an emphatic way of saying it didn't happen at all; it means not even the end of Mary's pregnancy was enough to make Joseph break his celibacy, for he did not know her to that very day. And that's just what Catholics believe: she was a virgin untouched by man both before she gave birth (which is affirmed here) and afterwards (which is affirmed elsewhere).

7. The Greek "heos hou" in Matt. 1:25 is special: "heos" with "hou" always means things changed afterward.

Not at all. 1 Peter 1:19 uses heos hou to say "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until [heos hou] the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts." Does that mean we should no longer take heed after the day dawns? Of course not. The Scriptures' prophetic words are written in heaven and will be pondered forever, together with their fulfillment, by those who merit to see them. The phrase "until that day" in Scripture means until that day and after; the phrase "he did not know her to the day of her death," or to the day she gave birth, or whatever, likewise means he did not "know" her (have sex with her) at all. That is how the Jews spoke, and it is how we sometimes speak today. Both faith and reason, Scripture and common language usage prove the Catholic doctrine on this point.

8. The Bible wouldn't call Jesus her firstborn unless there was a second-born after Him.

This can be immediately disproven by the fact that He was called the firstborn immediately after His birth, when there certainly wasn't a second-born even in the making -- Luke 2:7. The ancient scholars had a saying that captured this point: "He is first whom none precedes; he is last whom none follows." If Jesus was the first person to proceed from Mary's womb, (and in fact He was not only the first but the last,) then He was the firstborn by that very fact. And in truth, this is the same for every only child, for they are all firstborns, though none comes after them. And so this verse does not at all disprove the Catholic doctrine.

9. Mary couldn't have been ever-virgin because it is a sin to deprive your husband of his marital rights.

Not if the husband consents. If he chooses not to exercise his right to the marital embrace, then there is no violation of it in not giving what he does not ask. And that was the case with Mary and Joseph: he did not attempt to make her violate her pledge of chastity, but on the contrary was appointed to be with her as a guardian of it.

10. Why was Mary's ever-virginity made a dogma of the Church? It couldn't affect your salvation or anything.

It could if you denied it, because to deny a Church teaching is to cut yourself off from the Body of Christ, that is, from Christ Himself. But as to why her ever-virginity was made a dogma, that is because the doctrine is true and good and holy. It is true from Scripture, and it is good and holy because those who meditate on her example and feed it into their lives become good and holy by it. Mary becomes a model of chastity; a pure human and mere creature who lived perfectly the call to chastity is a great inspiration to priests and young people and others who are called to live by sexual chastity outside of marriage. And to those in a marital relationship, it can be inspiring to know of someone who loved her husband, but put God first, even to the point of sacrificing all sexual enjoyment for the sake of a greater role that she was uniquely called to. Men and women who are called to marry and have children can draw great inspiration from this, and live their lives the better because of it, knowing that their relationship is holy, but it points to something greater, and they should serve that greater thing through their spousal relationship.