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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Perpetual Virginity of Mary

Joes at The Breastplate of St. Patrick was kind enough to write this post concerning the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. I would also suggest that you check out Joel's post Protestantism Is A Lifeboat On Stormy Seas. Even though that post isn't directly related to this post, I think it is a good read.

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary was always a hard sell for me too. It wasn't until the last 6 months or so I started to get a handle on it. There are a few reasons why I feel that Mary needed to be a Perpetual Virgin and I will share them to the best of my knowledge and ability, however if I am off track or I contradict the Magisterium, please let me know and I will conform my opinions to those of the Church. Without further ado, the reasons are as follows.

1) Mary was the Ark of the New Covenant.

If you remember the Ark of the Old Covenant, it contained the 10 commandments (Word of God), the manna from the desert (Bread of Life) and Aaron's budding staff (Pastoral Symbolism). We also know that the foreshadowing of the Old Testament always takes a new form: the Word become flesh (John 1), the Passover Lamb becoming human, circumcision becoming baptism (Col 2:9-12). Following this vein, we can see that Mary was foreshadowed by the Ark of the Old Covenant having in her womb the Word of God, the Bread of Life and the Good Shepherd. What other reason for the Old Ark was there? It went before the Israelites through the wilderness and was the first into the waters of the Jordan, thereby allowing the Jews of the second generation to go through the waters as if in Baptism into the Promised Land. Please note the allegory of the Christian life found in the Exodus story. First in slavery to sin (Egypt), set free by the blood of the Lamb (passover), through the waters of Baptism (Red Sea) into the wilderness of the world where we are aliens on our pilgrimage to Heaven (wandering), fed with the Bread of Life and quenched with water from the Rock, given spiritual formation and training in holiness (Sinai and the 10 commandments), fighting against evil forces (defending against tribes in the area), and finally coming to the Promised Land, again through Baptism. The Ark led the way the whole time. So how does Perpetual Virginity work into this? Well, if you touched the Old Ark, you died. It was holy and set apart for God and God alone. It was a beacon, an object of adoration and a declaration of God's favour and provision. Mary likewise then was holy, set apart for God and God alone and is a beacon, object of adoration and a declaration of God's favour and provision. There is a strict "look but don't touch" rule in effect.

2)This was explained to me by my RCIA leader when I was but on my way to becoming a Catechumen because the Perpetual Virginity was high on my list of grievances with the Church.
The Jewish concept of marriage was a little different than what we have today. Anyone who has seen "The Nativity Story" has seen that when a couple became engaged, they were actually married at that point, but until the ceremony they were to refrain from what led to family so the marriage would be pure and there would be no doubt about the bride's virginity. We can see this in the Church today as the Church is the Bride of Christ, but the Marriage feast of the Lamb is spoken of as a future event. However, if the woman became pregnant, the Groom would marry her anyhow (if he knew the baby was his of course).
When it was announced to Mary that she was to conceive God's Son, she was under no illusions as to what that meant. To have someone's child was to be married to them. In her 'yes' Mary agreed to become God's 'spouse'. This makes sense also if Mary is to be the foreshadowing of the Church itself who is to be Christ's Spouse. Joseph therefore was told to take her into his house anyhow so that the baby would have a father and so God's Spouse would not be put to shame. Having said this, Joseph was a devout man the Gospels say and as a devout man, how could he in good consience have sexual relations with someone else's spouse? Mary had no other Children and remained a Virgin Perpetually because she became God's Spouse, prefiguring the marriage of Christ to the Church.

The question of Matt 1:25 came up to me also. It says:
"but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus."
What about the word "until"? I asked my Priest this question and he answered me thusly: In modern English the word until is used conditionally, that is to imply that whatever condition existed before no longer existed after. The original use of the word did not have this connotation of condition to it. Simply understood, when the author says 'until she bore a Son', he is trying to emphasize that she did not have relations with anyone, not even her own (earthly) husband so there would be no disputing that the child was of divine origin, not to imply this situation changed afterwards. I am quite satisfied with that explaination.

3) In the Garden of Eden, the Man was given the job of heading up the human family (which is more of a curse than a blessing if you are reading this as a feminist). If you will read Gen 3, you will find that Eve cursed herself and the relationships she will have as a result of being tricked, but since Adam chose sin over God, the whole of creation was damned. Sin entered into the world through the man only. This is one of the reasons that the Jewish faith is passed through the Mother only, because Original Sin is passed through the man. This is also the reason why Christ did not have an earthly father in a biological sense. He could not be scarred by sin in order to be our spotless sacrifice. Having said all this, Mary was the new Eve. In Gen 3 Adam named the woman Eve because she was the mother of all living. Likewise as the mother of all living in Christ, she is the new Eve. Therefore she is subject to Christ alone as he is the new Adam (1 Cor 15:35-50). To have sexual relations with anyone else would be to submit to or to put herself into subjection to the body of sin.
I was reading D.G.D. Davidson's conversion story at yesterday, and I noted specifically his ponderings on birth control. My wife asked why we don't allow barrier methods as they do not abort or cause medical complications. I referred to Gen 38 and the story of Tamar, the wife of Judah's son. Judah's son Er was struck down by God for being evil, so his brother Onan was told to go and 'raise up offspring for his brother' by making Tamar his wife. It is said then that Onan practiced the 'withdrawal method' and spilled his seed on the ground (every time it says). God struck him dead for this also. Why? because he refused to give of himself to the woman, he only took. It was the ultimate way to use and mistreat the woman in his day and age. Likewise, barrier methods of birth control have in fact perfected this feat of using, abusing and demeaning by now allowing the man to 'complete the act' without in fact giving of himself at all. Barrier methods allow men to steal more effectively from women. What does this have to do with the Perpetual Virginity of Mary? Well, if denying the gift of himself is evil, then a man does good by giving of himself, by giving of his flesh to his wife if you will for the purpose of creating a new life within her. Since the sacrament of marriage is a foreshadowing of our marriage (in the Church) to Christ, and Christ always does what is good, he gives of his flesh to his bride, the Church, for the purpose of creating a new life within her, both collectively and individually speaking. Finally, as previously mentioned, as the foreshadow of the Church, Mary accepts "the Flesh of God" as the creation of a new life within her. To accept another flesh less than that of God after this is unthinkable and unnacceptable.

4)Like Divine Revelation, the doctrines about Mary are trinitarian to a certain degree. They are Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity and Assumption into Heaven. Mary was Immaculately conceived as I understand as a singular grace given in advance for what Christ was about to do (and had in fact accomplished as he is Divine, outside of the bounds of time and therefore everything is now to Him) so redeeming her also. If she did not receive this grace, Perpetual Virginity and Assumption would be impossible. To be without stain of Original Sin meant that she committed no actual or personal sins. This meant that she was without concupicence or tendency towards sin, and therefore capable of remaining pure in every sense. This also means, since the wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23), then she was free to be assumed into Heaven because she had no sin to be paid for.
What this all means is that if you attack or deny Perpetual Virginity, you then also deny the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. By saying she did not remain a Virgin is to say that she was capable of sinning, and that means she was not born free of concupicence, and therefore not born free of Original Sin. What this also implies is that she had sinned and therefore was capable of dying. Even farther, if Mary sinned, Christ was also marked by sin and could not be our sacrifice for sin, and this would make his death useless and deny also the resurrection due to the fact the resurrection relies on the assertion that Christ was in fact sinless.
There is a good reason that the Church declares these things Dogmas of the Church; because if you deny one of them the whole of the faith unravels and is left a sham.

1 Cor 15:17-19
17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

I hope this has helped you out! I had a lot of fun writing it, and putting it all together on 'paper' helps me solidify my own view.

In Christ Jesus the Risen Lord

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