Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On the Mary's continued virginity after the birth of our Lord...

There are some (I used to be among them) who say that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of our Lord, but rather consummated her marriage with Joseph and had several other children by him.

The tradition of the Church is that she was raised as a virgin in the Temple, in accordance with the Law, and was betrothed to Joseph as a protector who was much older (and had several children by a previous wife who had died), and that she preserved her virginity according to her vows even after their marriage.

I converted to the Church's viewpoint on this based on the fact that I thought the Scriptures were ambiguous about it (they do have explanations for those passages that might seem to indicate that she did not remain a virgin), and it did seem to be the majority (actually, the only) viewpoint until the Reformation — there was no reason to disbelieve it. But I didn't hold it dogmatically; just as a "Ok, whatever you say, as long as it's not actually contradicted by Scripture".

However, I recently realized something that has brought me from the "Ok, whatever, Scripture is ambiguous about it" viewpoint to the "I actually believe that this is what Scripture teaches" viewpoint.

So what was this epiphany?

It's rather simple. I realized that Mary's response to Gabriel's initial announcement makes no sense unless she had in fact taken vows of virginity, and had zero plans to change that, in spite of her pending marriage.

Think about it. In the Jewish world, due to the expectation of the Messiah, the gift of having children was seen as a great blessing — you, young lady, might just be the one who bears the Christ! Young Jewish wives who didn't have children were looked down on as rejected of God or some such.

So here comes Gabriel, saying, "Rejoice, Mary, you're going to be blessed with a child, and He will be the Messiah!"

If she was planning at all on consecrating the marriage with sexual intercourse, her response would/should have been something on these lines: "Wonderful! Hallelujah! We'd better get to work straight-away after the wedding! Have you told Joseph yet that he's gonna be the father of the Messiah?"

But she didn't say that. Even nowadays, her response only makes sense in the light of a vow of chastity. How much more so then, when she was already betrothed? If she was planning on having a normal physical relationship with Joseph, then her statement "seeing that I know not a man" as the reason behind her question ("how?"), was not even true, because even if she hadn't "known a man" up to that point, she was certainly planning on it. So there would be no basis for her to ask "how", because the answer would be obvious: by the normal means.

But she wasn't planning on ever participating in the normal means. So she asks: "How, since I know not a man?" In other words, "Well, I know how that would happen normally, but my vow precludes me from that. What means, then, is left?"

Now some might object that she was merely asking how this would be, since it was to happen before she got married. But notice that Gabriel's announcement does not mention a time period. We know from the narrative that it happened before their marriage. But there is no mention of this in the announcement itself, so Mary wasn't reacting to that. Indeed, there is ample evidence in the Scriptures (with which she was quite familiar) that sometimes the promises of God for the bearing of a child would not happen for many years (10, in Sarah's case).

So it's obvious that her response was not triggered by a statement that it would happen before she was actually married to Joseph. No, she was under a vow of virginity, as the Church has always held. And she did not break that vow, even after their marriage ceremony.

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