Often when people throw fierce shades or target arrows of criticisms on Catholicism and the constituents of her faith – her doctrines and practices – they vantage their attacks from one frequently used bows which is characteristically protestant, yet insufficiently Christian. The “sola-scriptura – sola-fidei” syndrome, as installed by Martin Luther and the protestant reformers enthrones the Bible, to the exclusion of any other and every other deposit of truth, as the exclusive determinant, the sufficient tool for information and scrutiny, and the sole criterion for judging what should pass as correct doctrine for salvation. But that shouldn’t be; because there is more to what makes up the Christian faith than is documented in the pages of scripture (John 21:24-25).
Marian doctrinal statements, like several other catholic teachings and beliefs are often critiqued as either “not supported” by scripture, or outrightly “contradicted” by scripture. The Dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is most fingered on these grounds. CCC 499-500 states that the deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity. Meaning that the Blessed Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, was a virgin all her life; before (ante partum), during (in partu) and after the birth (et post partum), of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, Christ’s birth did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified. She is ever-virgin. It is therefore our faith and conviction, as the Apostles believed and taught, that our Lord Jesus had no biological siblings. But there seems to be certain scriptural passages/verses that substantially disprove this notion, and it is just helpful to cite and interrogate them here. Matt 1:24-25 – “Joseph did what the angel had commanded, took Mary home as his wife, but he did not have sexual relations with her UNTIL her son was born.
” From a grammatical point of consideration, it is important to register that the use of the preposition “until” designates what a situation was before another situation/event being referred to in direct relation. There is nothing in the use of the word “until” either as a preposition or as a conjunction that sufficiently discredits or denies the repeat of the situation earlier referred to. Though it often speaks of a reversal, it may not always indicate a reversal. Let’s make some other scriptural references to the use of the word “until.” i. 2 Sam 6:23 – until the day of her death, Michal, daughter of Saul had no children _ should that suggest that she started having children after her death? ii. 1Tim 4:13 – Paul tells Timothy to devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to preaching and teaching until I come _ should that imply that when he arrives, Timothy will stop these noble duties of his ministry? iii. 1 Cor 15:25 – Paul says for he (Jesus) must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. …would that mean that he will stop reigning after that? Luke 1:33 – He shall reign forever iv. Matt 28:20, – Jesus says, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age … it would be unimaginable to interpret this as meaning that Jesus will seize to be with his church afterwards.
Hence, when in Matt 13:55-56, the gospel hints on the “brothers & sisters” of Jesus – James, Joseph, Simon and Jude. It doesn’t suffice as proof for denying the virginal purity and integrity of the Immaculate Mother of God, claiming that she bore other children for her betrothed husband, Joseph. A proper biblical interpretation has proven highly helpful, revealing that the Greek word “adelphoi” used in that passage can translate as brother as in biological brother or kin or relative. For instance, Lot and Abram were described as “adelphoi” even though they were not brothers; they had an uncle-nephew relationship, (cf. Gen 13:8, 14:14-16). Matt 27:56 repeats the names of these brothers of Jesus – James and Joseph, this time, identifying their mother, not as the Blessed Virgin Mary, but a different Mary. St. Paul refers to James, the apostle, as the brother of the Lord (cf. Gal 1:19). CCC 501 reaffirms that Jesus is Mary’s only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save (cf. Rom 8:17).
The Fathers and theologians of the church, in the middle ages, defended the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, insinuating Mary’s womb to be the “gate” which Ezekiel referred to in ch 44:2, which no one else may open or go through since Yahweh, God of Israel has been through it. It must be kept shut. Luther himself, the trail blazer of Protestantism preached that Christ, our Saviour was the real and only natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb; this was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. He emphasized this point in his commentaries and sermons on the Gospel of John, stating that the virgin handmaid bore no children besides Jesus. Moreover, at the foot of the cross, before his death, Jesus handed his mother over and entrusted her to the care of one of his disciples…. Why would he do that if he had younger siblings? It’s true that Scripture doesn’t come right out to explicitly state that Mary was a perpetual virgin.
But nothing in Scripture contradicts that notion, and nothing in the doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual-virginity contradicts Scripture. Indeed, no Scripture can be produced that absolutely, undeniably, compellingly defeats the perpetual virginity of Mary. The alleged disproofs utterly fail in their purpose. The attempted linguistic argument against Mary’s perpetual virginity from the mere use of the word brothers in English translations falls flat at every turn, as we have seen. Believers, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, should bear in mind that the doctrinal and pious affirmations about the mother of God do not detract from the glory, dignity and divinity of her Son, nor do they insinuate that she assumes the status of a goddess.
• Rev. Fr. Chike Michael Osamor is the Assistant Priest-in-Charge, Church of Presentation, Festac Town, Lagos.