Blasphemies Against Perpetual Virginity I
I have begun writing about the five blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary for which Our Lady of Fatima asked that we make reparation. Last week I wrote about blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception; this week I intend to speak about the blasphemies against the Mary’s perpetual virginity; blasphemy against Mary’s perpetual virginity is so far advanced in the world and in the Church that the doctrine itself is practically forgotten.
For example, in 2006 there was a popular movie, “The Nativity Story”, starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, that portrayed the Blessed Virgin giving birth to Jesus in the midst of labor pains. The portrayal of labor pains in the birth of Jesus is contrary to the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. Nevertheless, that portrayal drew little comment on the part of Catholics. Few Catholics were even aware that such a portrayal is contrary to the tradition of our faith.
The denial of Mary’s perpetual virginity has its roots in Protestantism and reveals the inadequacy of the Protestant principle of ‘sola Scriptura’.
How is that? The Gospels clearly speak of Mary’s virginal conception, but they also speak of Jesus’ ‘brothers’. (cf. Mt 12:46, 13:55; Mk 3:32, 6:3; Lk 8:19; Jn 2:12, 7:3,5,10) If all we had to go by were the words of Scripture referring to Jesus’ brothers it would be quite natural to assume that Mary had other children and so did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus. The conclusion is not necessary: at a minimum Jesus’ brothers could have been children of Joseph, but not of Mary. Nevertheless the words of Scripture, by themselves, apart from the tradition of the Church, simply cannot decide this important question one way or the other.
The tradition of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth, (cf. Jn 16:13) shows us the true meaning of the Gospels, giving us the insight to understand that Mary did not just happen to be a virgin, but that her very identity and role in the history of salvation was defined by her virginity. Hence it was unthinkable to suppose that she had other children. This faith based understanding of Mary’s virginity, then led to two different traditional interpretations of the references to Jesus’ brothers: one that Joseph was a widower with children when he married the Blessed Virgin; the other, and I think preferable interpretation, that the word ‘brother’ is used, in accordance with ancient Jewish customs, in a broader, more generic sense, so as to include various close kinship relations.
This also shows us that while the infancy narratives reveal to us the truth of who Jesus and Mary are, other passages of the Gospels, such as those that speak of Jesus’ ‘brothers’, at times speak of how he appeared in the eyes of his contemporaries. The people of Nazareth are the ones who declare, ‘Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did he get all this?’ And they took offense at him. (Mt 13:54-57) So ordinary was his life in their midst, so ordinary his human relationships, so hidden from them the mystery of his birth, that they cannot move beyond his circle of kinship so as to grasp or accept his transcendent identity.
Still, as Catholics today, we are perhaps accustomed to accepting that Jesus’ ‘brothers’ are his close kin and that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. What is more foreign to us today is the thought that Mary preserved her virginity even in giving birth to Jesus, that Jesus entered this world without violating the physical integrity of the Virgin’s womb, that he entered this world amid the joyful hymns of angelic choirs and not the wails of a woman in labor.
In part we want to do honor to a woman’s labor pains by declaring that Mary shared them; in part we are affected by the spirit of naturalism, about which I will say more in a bit, that wants to reduce the Gospel narratives to the level of our experience.
As for Mary’s labor pains, it might seem that the great sign of the Apocalypse bears witness to them, for the woman clothed with the sun wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. (Rev. 12:2) The great sign of the Apocalypse, however, is not an historical narrative, but a composite and symbolic vision; yes, the Blessed Virgin is revealed in that great sign, but we need to ask, “What exactly are her labor pains?”
I think the answer is given in another inspired book by the same human author, St. John’s Gospel, for there we learn that the Blessed Virgin stood at the foot of the Cross, sharing her Son’s agony; there we learn, through the words of Jesus, Woman, behold your son; behold your Mother (Jn 19:26,27), that beneath the Cross Mary once again became a Mother, our Mother. Jesus was the Son of her joy; we are the children of her sorrows. (To be continued)