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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Perpetual Virginity of Mary

the mother of Christ is a doctrine held by some branches of the Christian Church. As the being who was conceived in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary was of divine origin, and as her virginity had been maintained for the purpose of that miraculous conception, it is thought to be unreasonable and irreverent to imagine that children conceived in sin were afterwards tenants of that sacred tabernacle. The Church fathers were the first to affirm that the mother of Jesus the Christ was not only a virgin at the time he was born but ever afterwards, and this belief was not called in question in the first ages. A denial of the virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the time of her conception had indeed been made by the Corinthians and Ebionites, who, in the 1James, 2 d centuries, asserted that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary by natural generation; but no doubt of her perpetual virginity was expressed by any who believed that Christ was born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:27) until the 4th century. It was then, after Apollinaris had denied the Blessed Virgin to be the real mother of the Word Incarnate, that some were led on to the denial of her perpetual virginity. These were called Antidicomarians, and their heresy gave rise to another, that of the Collyridians, who made the Blessed Virgin the object of an idolatrous worship, consisting in the offering of little cakes (collyrides), which were afterwards eaten as sacrificial food. -Epiphanius. in his treatise against heresies, severely condemned these two extremes. He denounced those who denied Christ's mother to be ever virgin, as adversaries of Mary, who deprived her of "honor due;" while he insisted that, according to the essential principles of Christianity, worship was due to the Trinity alone. Jerome wrote a tract against Helvidius, who maintained the view of the Antidicomarians; and this tract contains the most of the arguments that have been brought by bishop Pearson and other divines in support of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin. Helvidius denied it on the ground of the words of the evangelist Matthew, that Joseph "knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son" (Matthew 1:25); as if it implied that he knew her afterwards, and that a first-born son inferred a second-born. Jerome answered the first objection by citing other instances in which no such inference can be drawn from similar language (Genesis 27:15; Deuteronomy 25:6; 1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 6:23; Matthew 28:20).

But none of these passages are in point, Bengel, who treats the matter as an open question, says, "ἕως ου, non sequitur ergo post." The word "first-born," on which the Antidicomarians laid so much stress, does not occur in the Vatican MS., but, if its genuineness be admitted, the difficulty has been met by the supposition that Christ is called the first-born, not with reference to any that succeeded, but for the following reasons: 1. Because there were special rites attending the birth of a first-born son. These were not delayed until a second was born, but performed at once. The law was, "Sanctify unto me all the first-born: whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast, it is mine" (Exodus 13:2). Joseph and Mary, in obedience to this law, brought our Savior to Jerusalem "to present him to the Lord; as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord" (Luke 2:22-23). "First-born" is therefore equivalent to "one that openeth the womb." Bishop Pearson says, "the Scripture notion of priority excludeth an antecedent, but inferreth not a consequent; it suffereth none to have gone before, but concludeth not anv to follow after" (Creed, 1:214. See also Hooker, Ecl. Pol. bk. 5, ch. 45, sec. 2; Jerome, contra Helvid. 2:7; Augustine, Haer. 84, 8. 24; Whitby and BishopWordsworth, ad loc.). 2. The First-born was one of the titles of Jesus. In its classical sense, πρωτοτόκος (thus accentuated) never means the first-born, but has an active signification in relation to the mother who for the first time bears a child ( Iliad, 17:5); but in Holy Scripture it is used in the Sept., with a different accentuation, πρωτότοκος, to signify (a) sometimes the first- born, (b) sometimes the privileges which belong to the elder son, and also (c) as a title of the Messiah. (a) In the first sense it is used in Genesis 27:19; Genesis 48:18; Exodus 12:29; Numbers 18:15, etc. (b) There are other passages in which it is used metaphorically to express peculiar honor and dignity: "Israel is my son, even my first-born" (Exodus 4:22); "Ephraim is my first-born" (Jeremiah 31:9). This is also a Hebrew use which has been rendered by the translator of the A.V. "first-born" in Isaiah 14:30, where "the first-born of the poor" means very poor; and Job 18:13, where "the first-born of death" means the most terrible form of death. (c) It is used as a title of the Savior, without reference to priority of birth, in Psalms 89:27. In the New Testament our Lord is called πρωτότοκος ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς, "the first-born among many brethren" (Romans 8:29), πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, "the first- born of every creature," signifying the dominion which he has received who is made Head over all things. Πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5) means not simply the first who was raised, for that Christ was not, but he who hath power over death, and whose resurrection is an earnest of that of all his people: Hence it is argued that the word πρωτότοκος , in Matthew's Gospel, may be nothing more than a synonym of Christ. He was the "first-born" because he was the Second Adam, the Perfect Man, the Restorer and Redeemer of his brethren, the Lord of the Church, and the Heir of all things. The metaphor was borrowed from the dominion which the first-born exercised over his brethren, but when the word is compared with other passages in which it occurs it avails nothing for Helvidius's argument against the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But this philological argument is evidently inconclusive as applied to the passage in question, where the ord "first-born" is not used thus generally, nor as a title, but is explicitly limited to the fact of parturition. (See FIRSTBORN).

Another argument of the Antidicomarians was drawn from the mention made of the brethren of our Lord (Matthew 12:46; John 7:5), from which they inferred that these brethren were the children of our Lord's mother by her marriage with Joseph; but

(1) these brethren may have been the children of Joseph by a former wife. There is an old tradition preserved by Epiphanius and followed by Hilary, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Cyril, Euthymius, Theophylact, OEcumenius, and Nicephorus that Joseph had four sons and two daughters by a former wife named Escha. (See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 2:1; Pearson, On the Creed, 2:140). Jerome was the first to confute this opinion, alleging that it rested only on a statement contained in an apocryphal writing.

(2) It was held by Jerome, Augustine, and generally by the later commentators, that the brethren are not strictly the brethren but the cousins o our Lord, in which sense the term is frequently used in Holy Scripture (Genesis 13:8; Genesis 29:12; Leviticus 10:4). Helvidius argued that there was proof from Scripture of James and John being notioxly the brethren of our Lord, but the sons of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Among the women at the cross were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jamies and Moses. The sister Mary; he thought, was none other than the mother of our Lord, because she was found early at the sepulcher with Mary Magdalene and Salome, and it was improbable that any one should have greater care for the body of her son than his mother. The answer to this is clearly shown by bishop Pearson: "We read in St. John 19:25, that there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.' In the rest of the evangelists we find at the same place Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses,' and again at the sepulcher, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary;' wherefore that other Mary, by the conjunction of these testimonies, appeareth to be Mary the wife of Cleophas and the mother of James and Joses; and consequently James and Joses, the brethren of our Lord, were not the sons of Mary his mother, but of the other Mary, and therefore called his brethren, according to the language of the Jews, because that the other Mary was the sister of his mother" (Pearson, On the Creed, 1:217). A fragment of Papias, respecting the relationship of Christ's brethren, has been printed by Dr. Routh (Relig. Sacr. 1:16), in which he distinguishes four Marys, as follows:

(1.) Mary the mother of Jesus;

(2.) Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddaeus, and a certain Joseph;

(3.) Mary Salome, the wife of Zebedee, the mother of John the Evangelist and James (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; Mark 16:1);

(4.) Mary Magdalene. These four are found in the Gospels. James and Judas and Joseph were the sons of the maternal aunt of Jesus. Mary the mother of James the Less and Joseph, wife of Alphueus, was sister of Mary the Lord's mother, whom John calls "of Cleophas" ( τοῦ Κλωπᾶ, John 19:25), either from her father or her family, or from some other cause. Mary is called Salome either from her husband or her residence. Her, too, some call "of Cleophas," because she had had two husbands. (See BRETHREN OF OUR LORD).

In the Greek Church the Blessed Virgin has always been called ἀεὶ πάρθενος . This term was used by St. Athanasius. She was so called at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), and in the Confession of Faith published by Justin II in the 6th century. If the gate of the sanctuary in the prophet Ezekiel be understood of the Blessed Virgin "This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord God of Israel hath entered by it, therefore it shall be shut" (Ezekiel 44:2) the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin will appear necessary to that honor which belongs to her Divine Son, as well as to that which, for his sake, the Church has always accorded to her. But the inconclusiveness of this argument is obvious. (See MARIOLATRY); (See MARY).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Perpetual Virginity of Mary'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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