Mary: Inserting a missing word . . .

Tue, 07/10/2007 - 3:43pm
By: Letters to the ...

I give thanks to Russell Murphy for allowing me the opportunity to further explain the concept of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

I first would like to disagree with Mr. Murphy when he says that people primarily believe what they’ve been taught by birth and are hard-pressed to open their minds.

Perhaps that is true of some, but we cannot assume that is true of anyone or everyone. I am a good example. I was taught from birth not to believe in God, much less the teachings of the Catholic Church. Yet, I was able to open my own mind through a combination of reasoned inquiry and grace.

Next Mr. Murphy asserts that Matthew 1:25 proves Mary had intercourse with Joseph. I have two counterpoints.

One is that the translation Mr. Murphy provides is unique in that it says Joseph “had no intercourse with her until after she gave birth to a son.” This is the only translation I could find that includes the word “after.” I looked in several mainstream Protestant translations, including the King James Version and the New International Version, and could not find “after.”

If “after” were in the original, then Mr. Murphy would have an open and shut case. But since it is not, he doesn’t.

Then one is left to ponder if the word “until” truly requires that we accept that Mary and Joseph “knew” one another after Jesus’ birth.

I say, as does the consistent teaching of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, that it does not imply that. Rather, “until” in this sense serves only to emphasize that Mary and Joseph were chaste and that the only possible Father for Christ was God himself.

Another example of this usage of a time-limiting phrase would be from Matthew 28:20, when Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Does this mean he is not with us after the end of the age?

Of course not. He is emphasizing his presence with us in this age, just as the “until” in Matthew 1:25 emphasizes Mary’s virginal state during her pregnancy.

I know it seems like a stretch, but you have to take into account all the other factors in scripture that support Mary’s perpetual virginity. Scripture never explicitly says Mary had other children. It is well-known and accepted that “brethren” was synonymous with cousins. Jesus entrusted Mary to John, not to James, who is mentioned as Jesus’ “brother.”

The hymen issue is a distraction, frankly, and a rather gross one. Mary is a special case indeed, and even though her hymen had to have been broken by the birth, her having abstained from sexual contact is what makes her a virgin.

The theological argument I presented is brushed away by Mr. Murphy, but he has perhaps not studied the tortured history of the disputes concerning Christ’s identity as both man and God.

Starting in the fourth century and continuing to the end of the millennium, theologians argued back and forth on this issue. Their arguments were so heated that many times violence and death resulted.

There were essentially two opposing positions to the orthodox view of Jesus as both God and man: Jesus was just a man, or he was really God, but not man. Mary’s status as a perpetual virgin helped refute both errors.

Jesus having been born of an earthly mother, Mary, proved he was truly human, and the fact that his Father was God himself proved that he was also God. If Mary had gone on to have other children with Joseph, the special nature of Christ’s conception and virgin birth would have been undermined.

People could have said that since Mary had other children with Joseph, then Jesus was really just Mary’s first child with Joseph, and so not the Son of God. But if Mary remained a virgin her whole life, it would show that Joseph knew his wife was truly impregnated by God and that he respected that singular, truly holy divine intervention by honoring the inviolate nature of his beloved bride.

In other words, Joseph’s abstention was an affirmation that he accepted the very special nature of his wife’s role in salvation history.

I feel I am not doing this argument justice, but let me close with one more point about authority. I accept that this teaching is true based on the authority of the Catholic Church. This truth about Mary was passed on by the same people who passed on the gospels and the epistles. Though it did not make it into scripture itself, the Church has held this to be true from the earliest of times.

Why would the Church lie about such a thing? If it’s not necessary for Christian belief, as Mr. Murphy and others say, then why would the Church go to the trouble of preserving it? Because it’s true, and in those days, the Church and its members held to the truth even when it resulted in their own deaths, which was frequently.

Keep in mind also that this same Church was the one to decide which books were to be included in the New Testament in the late fourth century. If the Church had the authority to make that decision at that time, one which is still honored by all Christians, can we not also trust the Church to be correct about Mary’s perpetual virginity?

Again, I will leave that for you all to decide. I am just trying to present the arguments as clearly as I can. I am confident that through study, reasoning, and grace, we can all come to know the truth, if we only keep an open mind.

Trey Hoffman

Peachtree City, Ga.

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