Another difficulty against the dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady is taken from St. Matthew I, 18: “When His Mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost.” “Came together” (convenirent) in this case probably means, “dwelled together under the same roof.” From the phrase “before they came together” it does not follow, says St. Jerome, that they came together afterwards; Holy Scripture merely intimates what did not happen. Writing against Helvidius, Saint Jerome cleverly argues ad hominem in this fashion: “If I say: ‘Helvidius died before he did penance for his sins,’ does it follow that he did penance after his death.?”
Still another text alleged against the dogma of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity is St. Matthew I, 25: “and he [Joseph] knew her [Mary] not till she brought forth her firstborn son.” Helvidius heretically concluded from this statement that Joseph “knew” (i.e. had marital intercourse with) his spouse after she had brought forth her firstborn son. St. Jerome demonstrates the absurdity of this inference by pointing to such analogous texts as Psalm CIX, 1: “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool,” and Genesis VIII, 6 sq.: “… the raven … did not return till the waters were dried up upon the earth.” Does it follow, St. Jerome asks, that Christ will no longer sit at the right hand of God the Father when His enemies lie defeated at His feet? Or did the raven return to the ark after the waters were dried up?
But does not the term “firstborn” imply that Mary gave birth to more children than one? Not at all, for, as Saint Jerome points out, the Scriptures frequently employ the word “firstborn” to denote a mother’s first child, no matter whether it is followed by others or remains the only one.
The belief in Mary’s Virginity after Birth, or, more generally speaking, her Perpetual Virginity, is so firmly rooted in primitive Tradition that the Fathers regard its denial as an insult to Our Lord Himself.
Siricius and Bede indignantly charge the opponents of this dogma with “perfidy”; Gennadius accuses them of “blasphemy”, St. Ambrose of “sacrilege”, St. Jerome of “impiety”, and St. Epiphanius of “a rashness exceeding all bounds”. St. Basil declares: “Those who love Christ will not brook the assertion that the Mother of God ever ceased to be a Virgin.” St. Ambrose enthusiastically exclaims: “But Mary did not fail, the Mistress of virginity did not fail; nor was it possible that she who had borne God, should be regarded as bearing a man. And Joseph, the just man, assuredly did not so completely lose his mind as to seek carnal intercourse with the Mother of God.” St. Jerome appeals in support of the dogma to Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and other sub-Apostolic Fathers. Mary is venerated as Ever-Virgin in the earliest liturgies, and this title of honor evidently supposes that she remained a Virgin all her life. It is in this sense that St. Augustine says in one of his sermons: “Behold the miracle of the Mother of Our Lord: She conceived as a Virgine gave birth as a Virgin, she remained a Virgin after Child-birth.”, sh
St. Thomas Aquinas enumerates four principal reasons why it was morally necessary that the Blessed Virgin Mary should preserve Perpetual Virginity. These reasons are: (1) The unique character of Christ as the Only-begotten Son of God; (2) The honor and dignity of the Holy Ghost, Who overshadowed her virginal womb; (3) The excellency of the title Mother of God, and (4) The honor and chivalry of St. Joseph, who was commissioned to be the protector and guardian of his chaste spouse.
Father Joseph Poisson
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