More on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

I did one of those things recently where I went to one blog then from a link on that one to another one and then in the same way to another, landing me on a blog of a Reformed Protestant (of some particular stripe).

He posted a dismissive entry about Presbyterians who have become Catholic and managed to both speak pejoratively of those particular “conversative Presbyterian” churches as well as of the Catholic Church.  I am disappointed by his polemical tone and diction throughout the post, but I made a comment to one of the author’s comments in response to this statement of his:

Ah, that Rome would give up its silly and abominable notions of Mary’s perpetual virginity…

This Roman “notion” is so silly that, unfortunately for him, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Zwingli all believed in it, too–oops!

The Ever-Virgin Mother of God
The Ever-Virgin Mother of God

I posted a comment which said as much and politely asked him how he reconciles this fact with his great esteem (evident in his posts) for the magisterial Reformers.  That was several days ago, but unfortunately he has not approved the comment nor responded in any way.

Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli were all favorable to this doctrine. Here are some quotes from these Reformers and the Church Fathers on Mary’s perpetual virginity.

The “notion” is neither silly nor abominable–no more so than the Incarnation itself–but rather it is perfectly fitting that Mary, whom God chose to be the Mother of the Son, should remain a virgin before and ever after Christ’s miraculous conception in her womb.

The “problem” is that the Bible does not explicitly teach that she was always a virgin, and certain passages can be (naively) construed to support the opposite belief.  This is only a problem for those who adhere to sola Scriptura, as Mary’s perpetual virginity must be an extra-biblical tradition that has to be “tested” against each Protestant’s interpretation of the Bible, which is ambiguous on the matter.

The author of the post, Mr. Jordan, seemed to have been ignorant that the Reformers believed what he disbelieves and ridicules–hopefully he will have the humility to consider whether he might be wrong on this teaching and reevaluate his position given this powerful evidence against him.  And if he is wrong on that teaching, as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli all testify to, then what else is he wrong on?

13 thoughts on “More on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity”

  1. Devin – It looks like my comments and questions to Jim Jordan’s blog are no longer welcome. As best I can tell my comment which was waiting moderation has been deleted, and another question that I had posted for Mr. Jordan that had been approved, but not answered, is not deleted. Maybe he is just out of pocket for a while and these comments/questions will show up, but the deletion of my formerly approved question leads me to believe otherwise. If men are going to take shots at the Catholic Church. then one would hope that they would allow for a Catholic response.

  2. Typo in the above comment. Should have read:

    …another question that I had posted for Mr. Jordan that had been approved, but not answered, is NOW deleted.


  3. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for giving us an update on Mr. Jordan’s interactions with you. He might feel humiliated right now in realizing that he didn’t know about Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli all believing in this doctrine, which might have led him to block our comments entirely so that his readership doesn’t see them.

    Having once been an atheist and having disdain for Christians (all of them), then becoming a Christian, and then having once been an Evangelical Protestant Christian and having disdain for the Catholic Church (and its teachings which I thought false) and then becoming a Catholic, I have had to face such humiliation before, and it is hard, so I sympathize with him if he is facing a similar humiliation here.

    In any event, on the positive side he has been informed of something that weighs heavily against his current beliefs and so now has the opportunity, by God’s grace, to investigate this issue and perhaps come to change his position on it, potentially opening up the door for him to consider other matters where he has believed something without hearing the other side’s arguments.

    May Christ bless him and you as well!

  4. Devin,

    Mr. Jordan did respond to an email I sent. He says that it is not his blog and someone other than him decides what comments are approved…I guess they screen what Mr. Jordan gets to see…anyway, it is not Mr. Jordan who flushed our comments, nor is it Mr. Jordan who removed my earlier comments from the Biblical Horizons blog. Someone at Biblical Horizons believes that Catholics don’t deserve a voice in the conversation. Shame.

    Blessings and peace.


  5. Good points. However, when I have done posts on my blog regarding Luther’s views of Mary, I was told(by a non-Catholic) that they(my quotes) were either spuriously documented or taken from an earlier time in Luther’s career. I was told that his views on Mary “evolved” or daresay I “developed” over time.
    God bless, keep up the good works!

  6. Hi Tiber Jumper,

    Thanks for that rebuttal from a Protestant Christian.

    I have heard the exact same argument against Luther’s (well-known, well-documented, non-spurious) statement against the Epistle of St. James being “an epistle of straw” as well as against the canonicity of Revelation and the other “dubious” books he put at the end of his version of the Bible.

    The argument for them is that he retracted these statements by removing them from later editions of his Bible, so we should forget that he ever said them.

    That Luther changed his beliefs on a great number of things during his life, no one doubts; how exactly to know what he thought and taught at the end of his life (if we take that to be the “last word” on what he believed), is hard to know exactly, so we take the many things he said and evaluate them as things that, whether he believed them up to his last breath, he certainly believed and taught at one time and which had tremendous impact (for the bad or for the good, depending on your own beliefs).

    But to excuse his (sometimes unbelievable) remarks and comments and teachings or to ignore them if he later seems to have changed them does not give us the true picture of who he was and what he taught.

    If I could give recent examples, John Kerry “was for the war before he was against the war” to try to get people to ignore his vote for the war in Iraq when it came to light in the election, since he (lately) came to be against it.

    We now hear that Pres. Obama is “against a single-payer system” for health care even though he is on camera in the past saying, “I am for a single-payer system”! and and Hilary Clinton catching him on it:

    It is important to know whether John Kerry supported the war in Iraq, even if it was only for a few years or just before his death when he recanted his support.

    It is important to know whether Pres. Obama was a proponent of the single-payer system at any time (he apparently was for many years before the notion became unpopular and he backed away from it–perhaps a bit like Luther backing away from his warnings about the Biblical books he cast doubts and aspersions on before other Reformers and his followers showed the unpopularity of his statements).

    Finally, I would like to see the references to the later works where he recanted his belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary. That would be something I would ask your friend if he challenged me on this subject.

    Thanks again for the argument from a pro-Luther side.

  7. Hello! A protestant has a few questions here. Thanks for your time!

    The “notion” (of the perpetual virginity of Mary) is neither silly nor abominable–no more so than the Incarnation itself–but rather it is perfectly fitting that Mary, whom God chose to be the Mother of the Son, should remain a virgin before and ever after Christ’s miraculous conception in her womb.

    Why is it ‘perfectly fitting’ that a married woman remain a virgin and not offer her husband and herself the opportunity to be blessed with many children? I mean, St. Joseph indeed! What is the necessity though? The necessity of the incarnation is manifold. The necessity of the perpetual virginity of Mary however could only be borne of the need to venerate her- to lift her up to the highest station that a human woman could have. Why go beyond the fact that she bore Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and that made her blessed amongst women?

    This is only a problem for those who adhere to Sola Scriptura, as Mary’s perpetual virginity must be an extra-biblical tradition that has to be “tested” against each Protestant’s interpretation of the Bible, which is ambiguous on the matter.

    Perhaps the Bible is ambiguous there because her perpetual virginity is not true? Perhaps if its true, it (I mean after Jesus birth) not relevant to Jesus Christ of Nazereth and Gods purpose in bringing salvation? Why is it naive to suggest that this passage speaks of literal brothers and sisters? Mt 13:54-56

    Then? he came to his hometown?? and began to teach the people?? in their synagogue.?? They?? were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and miraculous powers? 55 Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary??? And aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56 And aren’t all his sisters here with us? Where did he get all this?”?57 And so they took offense at him.

    These people knew Jesus, they knew his ‘brothers and sisters’, that he was a carpenter, not a Rabbi. Why would Matthew create confusion here? Why would he avoid clarifying that Mary was a virgin all her life, and these were His cousins? It is not clear, but I see no need to venerate Mary beyond the fact that she was very blessed indeed. It seems more likely that the doctrine is protected agressively beyond the means of the text.

    See the wikipedia article on the ‘perpetual virginity of Mary’ to show that Luther probably held to it until his dying day.

    Thanks, God bless!

  8. In reading my post above- the Matthew quote rendered question marks in odd places- Sorry, please ignore the double question marks and the first question mark. I have no idea how that happened.

  9. Hi Garret,

    Mary’s perpetual virginity is certainly not as necessary as the Incarnation–my statement was to critique Mr. Jordan when he called it a “silly and abominable” notion and to point out that many think that God becoming man is a silly and abominable notion (e.g. atheists and Muslims).

    It was fitting that Mary remain a virgin because she virginally conceived and gave birth to Jesus Christ, who is God. Further, it seems strange for us modern people that Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have marital intercourse “like everyone else”, but the Church has prized virginity for the sake of the Kingdom since the beginning, as Christ and Paul both extolled that state. Here is a post I wrote recently on this vocation:

    Mary and Joseph’s marriage was unique in so many ways, especially in being the very family that God himself chose for His Son, and the parents that God chose for himself; it is not strange then to consider that they took mutual vows of celibacy (Mary objects to Gabriel that “she knows not man” which is understood as indicating this prior vow).

    Garret, are you willing to say that Mary is “the Mother of God”?

    The passages on Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” are handled extensively elsewhere, and if you like I can point you to some explanations. One of the references you make in particular, when cross-referenced with other passages listing some of the names of Jesus’ “brothers” actually shows that at least one of them had a different mother and therefore could not be Jesus’ brother in our strict English definition of the word. If one was not his blood brother, what about the others? Why was that word used for someone who was not his brother?

    The Bible can be considered to be ambiguous on baptism, the Eucharist, the Anointing of the sick, Confirmation, justification, the nature of the Trinity, Christ’s natures, Christ’s wills, Christ’s person, the end times, abortion, contraception, sterilization, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, and many other issues of faith and morals, depending upon which Christian “denomination” you belong to, since for every one of these issues there are a multitude of different interpretations. So the ambiguity doesn’t tell us what is true and false about a particular issue–i would argue it gives evidence that God did not intend us to interpret the Bible without Sacred Tradition and a sure authority guided by Him.

    Thank you again for your reasoned and respectful response.

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