"Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives."
~ Our Lady of Guadalupe
to St. Juan Diego
.

 

 

 

 

"THE LITTLE HISS FROM HELL"

The Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This article on the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady is from my De Maria Numquam Satis (About Mary Never Enough) which will be published soon as an E-book. It is available here for a free download.

       Before he became a Catholic Arnold Lunn wrote: "You hear a great deal about His Mother, for Our Lady has become the patron of a party, whereas Christ was never a party leader." 1 This slur on Our Lady so angered Gilbert Chesterton, that he wrote a beautiful poem in her defense entitled, "A Party Question"; which climaxes with the line: "The little hiss that only comes from hell." Father Feeney used to say that the jolt which this poem must have given Lunn, probably had more to do with bringing him into the Church, than all the weighty reasons he set forth in Now I See, the story of his conversion.

       There is nothing that Satan hates more than the Perpetual Virginity of Our Blessed Mother, and I thought that Chesterton's wonderful line would make an apt title to examine the diabolically inspired attacks on Our Lady's virginity over the course of the centuries. Fr. Michael O'Carroll, C.S.Sp. in his excellent Theotokos writes:

       "Mary of Nazareth conceived her Son Jesus while remaining a virgin; her virginity was not altered by childbirth; she remained a virgin in her marriage with St. Joseph. The virginal conception is affirmed by Sacred Scripture - virginitas ante partu; the second was discerned by the Church's intuition - virginitas in partu; the perpetual virginity, is strongly implied in the sacred text, and with the exception of Tertullian, has been held by important theologians from the beginning of Christianity." 2 

       Over the centuries "the little hiss from hell" has been directed against each of these threefold aspects of Our Lady's virginity, ante, inter, et post partum, before, during and after birth. Let us examine them one at a time, beginning in Thomistic fashion with the objections, and later with the reply: 

Virginitas ante partu (Virginity before birth): 

       The first and worse hiss from hell comes from the Jews, who say that Our Lord is the illegitimate child of Our Lady, as the result of an adulterous union with a Roman soldier. This calumny was probably already in circulation in Jesus' lifetime, and explains the taunt of the Jews in John 8:41: "We are not born of fornication." Here is Origen an early Father of the Church (d.254) in his Against Celsus

       "But let us now return to where the Jew is introduced speaking of the mother of Jesus, and saying that 'when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera'; and let us see whether those who have blindly concocted these fables about the adultery of the Virgin with Panthera, and her rejection by the carpenter, did not invent these stories to overturn His miraculous conception by the Holy Ghost." 3 

       In the Talmud Jesus is called in various places "Jesus ben Panthera." It is mainly for this reason that this blasphemous book was publicly burned during the Middle Ages on the recommendation of the great Dominican Doctor, St. Albertus Magnus, whose study of it was commissioned by the Holy Father. I will never forget one Sunday on Boston Common - we used to process off the Common with one of the brothers leading, carrying a large crucifix, a Jewish woman hanging out of a car window, and screaming, "He's a mamzer! He's a mamzer! He's a bastard!" 4 This means that in the story of Susanna and the elders in the book of the prophet Daniel, that Susanna is a type of Our Lady. Daniel while yet a boy, exposed the calumny of these two evil men, a type of the Jews, who were immediately put to death, but their calumny lives on in antitype in theTalmud. The story of Susanna told in chapter 13 of the book of Daniel, is deleted from the Jewish Bible, and also the Protestant, who always follow their lead.

       Next came certain Jewish Christians, among them Ebion and Cerinthus, who lived in the time of the Apostle St. John, and who claimed that St. Joseph was the natural father of the child Jesus. This outrageous lie is continued today by some liberal Protestants and even by some so-called "Catholic" liberals. Here is St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori in his The History of Heresies and Their Refutation, writing of the death of Cerinthus: 

       "The Apostle St. John...met him going into a bath, when, turning to those along with him, he said, let us hasten out of this, lest we be buried alive, and they had scarcely gone outside when the whole building fell with a sudden crash, and the unfortunate Cerinthus was overwhelmed in the ruins. One of the impious doctrines of this heretic was that Jesus was a mere man, born as all other men are, and that, when he was baptized in the river Jordan, Christ descended on him, that is, a virtue or power, in the form of a dove, or a spirit sent by God to fill him with knowledge, and communicate it to mankind; but after Jesus had fulfilled his mission, by instructing mankind and working miracles, he was deserted by Christ, who returned to heaven, and left him to darkness and death. Alas! what impiety men fall into when they desert the light of faith, and follow their own weak imaginations." 5 

Virginitas in partu (Virginity during birth) 

       Tertullian (circa 220) was probably the first to deny Our Lady's virginitas in partu, which might explain why he did not persevere in the Catholic faith. He was followed by Jovinian (circa 390) who was denounced by St. Jerome and condemned by a synod in Rome under Pope Siricius, and later at a synod in Milan by St. Ambrose.

       In 1952 a Dr. A. Mitterer brought out a book 6 in which he distinguished between Our Lady's biological virginity and her spiritual or moral virginity. He claimed that Jesus could have been born in the normal human way, and Our Lady still have remained a virgin, spiritually. This spurious distinction was immediately picked up by liberal/Modernist Scripture scholars, like Fr. Raymond Brown, by theologians like Fr. Karl Rahner, and by the Catholic feminist movement. The Holy Office issued a Monitum in 1960 which, as Fr. Peter Fehlner writes, "warned of the danger of irreverence toward the Blessed Mother to which even the discussion of such ideas led. Discussion inevitably implies that there is some point yet to be clarified; whereas in this case what is to be believed is already clear such that to indulge curiosity can only weaken faith and devotion." 7 Here is the Monitum

       "This Supreme Sacred Congregation has had repeatedly to consider, with deep concern, recently published theological works in which the delicate question of the virginity "in partu" of the Most Holy Mary was treated with deplorable crudeness of expression, and, what is more serious, in open disagreement with the traditional doctrine of the Church and with the pious sense of the faithful.

       "In the plenary Congregation of Wednesday the 20th c. m., it therefore seemed necessary to the Eminent Fathers of the Holy Office because of their most grave responsibility to safeguard the sacred deposit of Catholic doctrine, to take care that for the future that the publication of similar dissertations concerning the aforementioned problem be forbidden." 8

       Fr. Michael O'Carroll writes concerning Vatican Council II: "The first Marian schema contained the words 'who [the Son] willed the bodily integrity of his Mother to remain, in the moment of birth (in ipsomet partu), incorrupt and untouched...', the notes to the text said that this phrasing was meant to counter Mitterer's theory." 9 But unfortunately, Father Rahner, the most influential peritus at the Council, was able to sabotage this schema. Fr. Ralph Wiltgen in his very informative, The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, writes: 

       "When the German and Austrian Council Fathers received their copies of the schema, they asked Father Rahner to prepare comments on it for presentation at the forthcoming Fulda conference.

       "According to Father Rahner, whose written comments were distributed to all participants in the conference, the schema as then drafted was 'a source of the greatest concern'...Were the text to be accepted as it stood, he contended, 'unimaginable harm would result from an ecumenical point of view, in relation to both Orientals and Protestants.' It could not be too strongly stressed, he said, 'that all the success achieved in the field of ecumenism through the Council and in connection with the Council will be rendered worthless by the retention of the schema as it stands.

       "It would be too much to expect, continued Father Rahner, that the schema on the Blessed Virgin could be rejected as simply as the schema on the sources of revelation. It should therefore be urged 'with all possible insistence' the schema on the Blessed Virgin be made either a chapter or an epilogue of the schema on the Church. 'This would be the easiest way to delete from the schema statements which, theologically, are not sufficiently developed and which would do incalculable harm from an ecumenical point of view. It would also prevent bitter discussion.'

       "Father Rahner contended further that the schema as it stood used 'tactics which objectively are not honorable,' since 'it declares that there is no intention of defining new dogmas, and at the same time presents certain teachings as though they already belonged to the doctrine of the Church, although they are not as yet dogmas and, from a modern theological standpoint, cannot become dogmas.'" 10

       Fr. Karl Rahner and Fr. Raymond Brown don't directly deny the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady, but prefer to cast doubt on it. This is the technique used by the early Modernist Abbé Loisy, and is one of his propositions condemned by Pope St. Pius X in Lamentabile sane: "An exegete must not be censured for establishing premises from which it follows that dogmas are historically false or doubtful, provided only he does not directly deny the dogmas themselves" (Denz. 2024).

       The great Catholic apologist of the last century, Orestes Brownson, was for a brief period of time, caught up in "Americanism," the misguided attempt to make the harsher doctrines of the faith more palatable to Protestants, a period in his life which he later bitterly regretted. His son Henry in his marvelous three volume life of his father, writes of this period: 

       "It was in the belief that many of the most serious objections urged by thinking men against the Church would be removed by a theological explanation of the Catholic doctrine of hell greatly modifying the popular opinion, that Brownson threw out doubts as to the nature and duration of the punishment of the wicked. True, he only asked questions as to what Catholic faith requires us to believe; but questions may be asked in such manner as to suggest and enforce their answers..."11 

       Fr. Raymond Brown's book The Virginal Conception and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, in which he juxtaposes his doubts about the Virginal Conception against his doubts concerning the bodily resurrection of Our Lord, one doubt feeding on the other, appeared in 1973, well after the Monitum of the Holy Office. He is evidently referring to the Monitum in this passage: 

       "In my personal opinion, for the Roman Catholic Church authorities to seek to close this question by fiat without discussion of the complexities of the evidence would be disastrous. Those of us who are loyal would obey, and the discussion will be left to those Catholics who ignore authority. A more likely reaction will be to dismiss the request for a serious re-examination as unthinkable. Pedagogically, such a response will scarcely satisfy a generation that constantly thinks the unthinkable. A serious re-examination, involving refined criteria for infallibility and a more critical approach to the biblical evidence, may well result in reaffirming that the virginal conception is truly of Christian faith; but then the very fact that we were willing to make an honest study will enhance the credibility of the position." 12

       And here is Brown using the question technique, that is instead of openly denying a dogma, he throws out questions concerning it: (A theologoumenon is a theological truth presented under the guise of history, the history of course being false.) 

       "We should note that authors who use the term "theologoumenon" in relation to the virginal conception are not necessarily agreed about the degree of non-historicity to be attributed to the picture in which the theological truth finds expression. It seems to me that three questions would have to be asked of those who claim that the virginal conception is the historicizing of the truth that Jesus is God's Son. (a) Is it this truth that the virginal conception actually conveys in the NT, especially in Matthew which seems to put primary emphasis on answering calumny, on affirming Davidic descent, and on fulfillment of prophecy? (b) Do we have reason to think that it would occur to early Christians to express divine sonship in terms of virginal conception? Is this an imagery that would suggest itself to Jewish believers in Jesus, whether Greek-speaking or Semitic-speaking? (c) Even if the answers to both a and b are affirmative, does this prove that, in fact, a virginal conception did not occur?" 13

       And again: 

       "As a summary reflection on the silence of these various NT documents in relation to virginal conception, I would have to insist that, even when this silence indicates ignorance, it does not disprove the historicity of the virginal conception. Such a conception would not have been part of the early proclamation, for it opened Jesus' origins to ridicule and calumny. One might theorize, then, that a family tradition about the virginal conception circulated among relatively few in the period A.D. 30-60 before it spread and became known by communities such as those for whom Matthew and Luke wrote. On the other hand, the silence of the rest of the NT enhances the possibility of the theologoumen theory whereby sometime in the 60s one or more Christian thinkers solved the christological problem by affirming symbolically that Jesus was God's Son from the moment of conception. According to the theory, they used an imagery of virginal conception whose symbolic origins were forgotten as it was disseminated among various Christian and recorded by the evangelists." 14 

       And here is Father Brown's summary conclusion of his doubts: "My judgement, in conclusion, is that the scientifically controllable evidence leaves an unresolved problem." 15

       Father Rahner also writing after the Monitum, which he ignores, in a study very sympathetic to Mitterer, also uses the question technique, often piously phrased, to formulate his doubts:

       "One could of course object at this stage of the proceedings that the perspectives opened up allow us to appreciate the fact that Mary's act of giving birth is indeed Mary's as such 'Marian,' we may say, but do not help us to understand how it is virginal. We must ask in return whether we are clear about what virginal means when applied to birth. The presence or absence of pain has undoubtedly nothing to do with virginity (whether there were in fact pains or not may be left a completely open question). But no one can seriously maintain that the notion, at least, of 'bodily integrity' has anything to do with virginity, except in so far as this is connected (also) with sexual intercourse, but not as it is connected with birth. Hence 'virginitas in partu' appears at lest a highly problematical notion when the concepts are analyzed. In any case, the process which the traditional doctrine takes to be the concrete content, cannot be derived from the (logically anterior) concept of 'virginitas in partu,' which can only be regarded as a subsequent and not very happy summary of what one knows of the process from other sources. Thus the question arises as to what is the consistent objective basis from which the details in question could eventually be determined." 16

       And here is his concluding summary of his doubts: 

       "What are we then to think of the other details with which tradition tried to render the difference in Mary's child-bearing? We have already remarked that one is not obliged to accept at once all such elements of tradition as definitely dogmatic and certainly binding. But leaving this consideration aside, the question arises once more: what is really included in the concept 'bodily integrity' and what does it imply? If it is considered as a revealed concept, anterior to the individual details, it will be difficult to say what it really implies and whether the usual conclusions drawn from it really follow. Is, for instance, the normal expansion of the genital passages in a completely healthy birth to be considered a breach of 'bodily integrity?' Will anyone have the courage to maintain this categorically? Are any of the processes of normal birth to be placed under the rubric of 'injury' of 'damage' (corruptio)? And if so, what has been damaged? The 'virginity' or a bodily 'integrity,' 'soundness?' All this is very problematical, and can hardly be a pointer to the concrete details which we are looking for, as should be clear from the general trend of the discussion in Mitterer and in these pages.

       " ...All we can say is this: Church doctrine affirms, with the real substance of tradition, that Mary's child-birth, as regards both child and mother, like the conception, is in its total reality, as the completely human act of this 'virgin,' in itself (and not just by reason of the conception, as Mitterer says), an act corresponding to the nature of this mother, and hence is unique, miraculous and 'virginal.' But this proposition, which is directly intelligible, does not offer us the possibility of deducing assertions about the concrete details of the process, which would be certain and universally binding." 17

       But the loudest hissing on Our Lady's virginitas in partu comes from the Catholic feminists. They dispense with Fathers Brown and Rahner's question technique, and boldly deny this dogma openly, but their denial is based on the biblical 'scholarship' of men like Brown, and the 'theology' of men like Rahner. Here is one of them: 

       "The legend of the Virgin Birth is found only in Matthew and Luke. But even in the case of these two Gospels the metaphor of the Virgin Birth occurs only in the more recent strata of the text, not in the oldest. The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 come from a time when Joseph's being the father of Jesus was taken completely for granted. These parts of the Gospels aim to prove that Jesus is a descendent of David through Joseph, which presupposes that Joseph is Jesus' actual father. And Mary quite matter-of-factly refers to Joseph as Jesus' father in Luke 2:48.

       "Only in the more recent strata of these two Gospels do we find the Virgin Birth used as a metaphor to express God's special initiative in salvation history. Here the New Testament does not need to be read as a documentary report, nor to be taken literally, any more than the description of Adam's creation from a clod of earth in Genesis. Both are expressive images for the concept that the creation of the first man and the creation of the 'second man' (as Paul calls Jesus in 1Corinthians 15:47) are the work of God." 18

       And here she is on the Virginity of Our Lady in partu

       "This doctrine of "virginity in childbirth," which cannot be abandoned without having the whole artificial structure of Mary's 'perpetual virginity' collapsing on itself, is an especially crass example of the fantastic lengths people will go in order to make Mary over into a virgin...Mary is supposed to have borne Jesus as if he were a ray of light or transfigured, as he was after his resurrection, or like the burning bush, which was not consumed, or 'the way spirits pass through bodies without resistance'...Putting aside the question of whether Christ, if he was born like a sort of ray, nevertheless became man, the dignity of a woman cannot be manifested by making her into the mother of a beam of light. By separating Mary so radically from other women who have borne children, one may have given her, from the Mariological standpoint, something crucially important. But from the human standpoint one has taken something just as crucial away. Anyone who claims that Mary maintained her biological virginity in childbirth - like the birth of an idea of a pure spirit - has to realize that he is robbing her of her motherhood." 19 

       These arrogant women, many of them nuns, who are pro-abortion, who despise the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady, and who want to be ordained priests, should take warning by what happened to Miriam, the sister of Moses, when she demanded a share of her brother's power:

       And Mary and Aaron spoke against Moses, because of his wife the Ethiopian. And they said: hath the Lord spoken by Moses only? hath he not also spoken to us in like manner? And when the Lord heard this, (for Moses was a man exceeding meek above all men that dwelt upon earth) immediately he spoke to him, and to Aaron and Mary: Come out you three only to the tabernacle of the covenant. And when they were come out, the Lord came down in a pillar of the cloud, and stood in the entry of the tabernacle calling to Aaron and Mary. And when they were come, He said to them: Hear my words: if there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him in a dream. But it is not so with my servant Moses who is most faithful in all my house: for I speak to him mouth to mouth: and plainly, and not by riddles and figures doth he see the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak ill of my servant Moses? And being angry with them he went away: The cloud also that was over the tabernacle departed: and behold Mary appeared white as snow with a leprosy. And when Aaron had looked on her, and saw her all covered with leprosy, he said to Moses: I beseech thee, my Lord, lay not upon us this sin, which we have foolishly committed: let her not be as one dead, and as an abortive that is cast forth from the mother's womb. Lo, now one half of her flesh is consumed with the leprosy. And Moses cried to the Lord, saying: O God, I beseech thee heal her. And the Lord answered him: If her father had spitten upon her face, ought she not to have been ashamed for seven days at least? Let her be separated seven days without the camp, and afterwards she shall be called again. Mary therefore was put out of the camp seven days: and the people moved not from that place until Mary was called again. (Numbers 12:1-15.)


Virginitas post partu (Virginity after birth) 

       One of the first to claim that the phrase, "the brethren of the Lord," which appears frequently in the Gospels, meant that Our Lady had other children after Jesus, was the monk Helvidius, who was obliterated in argument by St. Jerome. I had chosen the title "The Little Hiss from Hell" before I read his tract Against Helvidius, and I was delighted to find him using the same term "hiss" to describe a calumny against Our Lady: 

       " ...But for fear you may make some cavilling objection, and wriggle out of your difficulty like a snake, I must bind you fast with the bonds of proof to stop your hissing and complaining, for I know you would like to say you have been overcome not so much by Scripture truth as by intricate arguments." 20 

       St. Jerome's arguments are too long to record here, but St. Thomas Aquinas has a concise summary of them in his Summa Theologica

       "Obj. 5. Further, it is written (Jo. ii. 12): After this He went down to Capharnaum, He - that is, Christ - and His Mother and His brethren. But brethren are those who are begotten of the same parent. Therefore it seems that the Blessed Virgin had other sons after Christ.

       "Obj. 6. Further, it is written (Matt. xxvii. 55,56): There were there - that is, by the cross of Christ - many women afar off, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto Him; among whom was Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Now this Mary who is called the mother of James and Joseph seems to have been also the Mother of Christ; for it is written (Jo. xix. 25) that there stood by the cross of Jesus, Mary His Mother. Therefore it seems that Christ's Mother did not remain a virgin after His birth. 

       "Reply Obj. 5. Some, as Jerome says on Matth. xii. 49,50, suppose that the brethren of the Lord were Joseph's sons by another wife. But we understand the brethren of the Lord to be not sons of Joseph, but cousins of the Saviour, the sons of Mary, His Mother's sister. For Scripture speaks of brethren in four senses; namely, those who are united by being of the same parents, of the same nation, of the same family, by common affection. Wherefore the brethren of the Lord are so called, not by birth, as being born of the same mother; but by relationship, as being blood relations of His. But Joseph, as Jerome says (cont. Helvid. ix), is rather to be believed to have remained a virgin, since he is not said to have had another wife, and a holy man does not live otherwise than chastely.

       "Reply Obj. 6. Mary who is called the mother of James and Joseph is not to be taken for the Mother of our Lord, who is not want to be named in the Gospels save under the designation of her dignity - the Mother of Jesus. This Mary is to be taken for the wife of Alpheus, whose son was James the less, known as the brother of the Lord (Gal. i. 19). 21

        Helvidius' errors are repeated today by most Protestant fundamentalists. On the occasion of the definition of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in 1950, a fundamentalist Protestant minister at the Park Street Church in Boston, the Rev. Harold J. Ockengay, took out a full page advertisement in all the Boston newspapers, saying, among other things, that Our Lady had other children besides Jesus. There was not a single protest from the bishop or the clergy. Father Feeney when he was trying to extract from Cardinal Pizzardo, the Secretary of the Holy Office, a statement of the charges against him, used this incident as an example of how low the faith had fallen in Boston: 

       "The state of the Faith existing in the Archdiocese of Boston as recounted in this document is most grave. For example, it has even reached the point where, in a predominantly Catholic city, a heretical minister, on the occasion of the definition of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, publicly attacked her virginity by a paid advertisement in every secular newspaper in the city, without any public protest by either the ordinary or the clergy. I am the only priest in the Archdiocese of Boston who has attempted to remedy this situation by my public utterances and by proper recourse to the Holy See." 22

       The Boston newspapers had conspired among themselves to boycott any information about St. Benedict Center, and Father Feeney responded by speaking publicly on Boston Common every Sunday. To try and arouse in the Boston Catholics some idea of the indignation that Catholics in the ages of Faith would have felt against Ockengay, he used to tell the story of St. Ignatius, while in the early stages of his conversion, and his encounter with a Moor: 

       "Now, while he pursued his way [toward Montserrat] he was joined by a Moor riding along on a mule. They went on together, and in their conversation they happened to speak of Our Lady." The Moor expressed the opinion that the conception of Jesus was divine, but he could not believe that Mary afterward remained a virgin. 'And he proposed objections that occurred to him and would not be moved from the stand he took, in spite of the many arguments which the pilgrim gave him.'They finally separated. And the Moor, setting spurs to his mount, 'took the lead so quickly that he was soon out of sight.'

       "Meanwhile Iñigo was very much troubled at heart with conflicting thoughts. He felt 'that he had failed in his duty'; he was 'discontented with himself...angered at the suggestion of the Mussulman...never should a Christian like himself have tolerated such language so dishonorable to the Mother of God. Was there still not time to avenge the Blessed Virgin, pursue the blasphemer, and punish his rashness by a few well-aimed thrusts of his dagger?' For a long time Iñigo pondered, and finally 'remained undecided without seeing where his duty lay.' The Moor had told him his destination, a farmhouse situated in the direction of Montserrat, but a little off the highway. To settle the difficulty of this case of conscience which was beyond his power to resolve, Iñigo adopted the expedient of letting his mule have the reins as far as the point where the roads separated. If the mule took the road toward the farmhouse, he would follow the Moor and let him have a taste of his dagger; if the mule followed the highway, he would forget about him. The farmhouse was no further than thirty or forty paces from the highway, and the road which led to it was good and wide. The mule, however, continued on the highway. Iñigo took this for a direction from Providence and left the miscreant in peace." 23

       But I think the Boston Catholics were more scandalized at St. Ignatius, than they were at Okengay.

       Let us now in our Thomistic methodology go on from the objections to the Reply. And who better to summarize the tradition of the Fathers and the Doctors on the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady than St. Thomas Aquinas himself:

 On Virginitas ante partu:        

       "On the contrary, It is written (Isa. vii. 14): Behold a virgin shall conceive.

       "I answer that, we must confess simply that the Mother of Christ was a virgin in conceiving, for to deny this belongs to the heresy of the Ebionites and Cerinthus, who held Christ to be a mere man, and maintained that He was born of both sexes.

       "It is fitting for four reasons that Christ should be born of a Virgin. First, in order to maintain the dignity of the Father Who sent Him. For since Christ is the true and natural Son of God, it was not fitting that He should have another father than God: lest the dignity belonging to God be transferred to another...

       "Fourthly, on account of the very end of the Incarnation of Christ, which was that men might be born again as sons of God, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (Jo. i. 13), i.e. of the power of God, of which fact the very conception of Christ was to appear as an exemplar. Whence Augustine says (De Sanct. Virg.): It behoved that our Head, by a notable miracle, should be born, after the flesh, of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born, after the Spirit, of a virgin Church." 24 

On virginitas in partu: 

       "On the contrary, In a sermon of the Council of Ephesus (P. III, Cap. ix) it is said: After giving birth, nature knows not a virgin: but grace enhances her fruitfulness, and effects her motherhood, while in no way does it injure her virginity. Therefore Christ's Mother was a virgin also in giving birth to Him.

       "I answer that, Without any doubt whatever we must assert that the Mother of Christ was a virgin even in His Birth: for the prophet says not only: Behold a virgin shall conceive, but adds: and shall bear a son. This indeed was befitting for three reasons. First, because this was in keeping with a property of Him whose Birth is in question, for He is the Word of God. For the word is not only conceived in the mind without corruption, but also proceeds from the mind without corruption. Wherefore in order to show that body to be the body of the very Word of God, it was fitting that it should be born of a virgin incorrupt. Whence in the sermon of the Council of Ephesus (quoted above) we read: Whosoever brings forth mere flesh, ceases to be a virgin. But since she gave birth to the Word made flesh, God safeguarded her virginity so as to manifest His Word, by which Word He thus manifested Himself: for neither does our word, when brought forth corrupt the mind; nor does God, the substantial Word, deigning to be born, destroy virginity.

       "Secondly, this is fitting as regards the effect of Christ's Incarnation: since He came for this purpose, that He might take away our corruption. Wherefore it is unfitting that in His Birth He should corrupt His Mother's virginity. Thus Augustine says in a sermon on the Nativity of Our Lord: It was not right that He who came to heal corruption, should by His advent violate integrity.

       "Thirdly, it was fitting that He Who commanded us to honor our father and mother, should not in His Birth lessen the honor due to His Mother." 25

On virginitas post partu: 

       "On the contrary, It is written (Ezech. xliv. 2): This gate shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it; because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered by it. Expounding these words, Augustine says in a sermon (De Annunt. Dom. iii): What means this closed gate in the House of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that 'no man shall pass through it,' save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this - 'The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it,' except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of angels shall be born of her? And what means this - 'it shall be shut for evermore,' but that Mary is a virgin before His Birth, a virgin in His Birth, and a virgin after His Birth?

       "I answer that, Without any hesitation we must abhor the error of Helvidius, who dared to assert that Christ's Mother, after His Birth, was carnally known by Joseph, and bore other children. For, in the first place, this is derogatory to Christ's perfection: for as He is in His Godhead the Only-Begotten of the Father, being thus His Son in every respect perfect, so it was becoming that He should be the only-begotten son of His Mother, as being her perfect offspring.

       "Secondly, this error is an insult to the Holy Ghost, whose shrine was the virginal womb, wherein He had formed the flesh of Christ; wherefore it was unbecoming that it should be desecrated by intercourse with man.

       "Thirdly, this is derogatory to the dignity and holiness of God's Mother: for thus she would seem to be most ungrateful, were she not content with such a Son; and were she, of her own accord, by carnal intercourse to forfeit that virginity which had been miraculously preserved in her.

       "Fourthly, it would be tantamount to an imputation of extreme presumption in Joseph, to assume that he attempted to violate her whom by the angel's revelation he knew to have conceived by the Holy Ghost.

       "We must therefore simply assert that the Mother of God, as she was a virgin in conceiving Him and a virgin in giving Him birth, so did she remain a virgin ever afterwards." 26

       Let us go on now to the Magisterium of the Church. We saw that the first schema on Our Lady of Lumen Gentium of Vatican Council II, included a strong statement on virginitas in partu, and in a footnote condemned the Mitterer thesis that Our Lady need not have remained a virgin biologically. We saw also that Fr. Karl Rahner, a sympathizer of Mitterer, succeeded in blocking this schema. Here is the final schema in which Our Lady triumphed over these minimalizers of her Virginity. 

       "This union of Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ's virginal conception up to his death;...at the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish His Mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it, the Mother of God joyfully showed her firstborn Son to the Shepherds and the Magi." 28

       Father Fehlner in his beautiful little pamphlet, Virgin Mother the Great Sign, comments on this passage: 

       "After the phrase 'sanctified it' the Council appended references to indicate the precise sense in which virginal integrity at the time of Christ's birth is to be understood. Three references are given by the Council in note 10: to canon 3 of the Lateran Synod of 649, to the Dogmatic Tome of Saint Leo the Great to Flavian, and to the passage of Saint Ambrose in his work on the education of virgins." 28

       Father Fehlner had previously discussed these three references. About the Lateran Synod, he writes: 

       "In the year 649 a Roman Synod gathered at the Lateran to deal with the monothelite heresy, which affirmed but 'one will,' viz., divine in Christ and so denied the reality of His human will (and by implication the full reality of His human nature). 15 Although only a local council the decrees of this Roman Synod were approved by Pope Martin I in such wise as to be valid throughout the Church, i.e., they are in effect ecumenical. Among those canons with ecumenical force is the famous third:

       "...Him, who before all ages was born of God the Father, in this last age...was conceived without male seed by the Holy Spirit, and was begotten incorruptly, her perpetual virginity remaining also after birth." 29

       And on the reference to the Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great (449), he writes: 

       "Saint Leo: '...He was conceived by the Holy Spirit within the womb of the Virgin, who brought Him forth so preserving her virginity intact, just as she conceived Him with her virginity intact.'" 12 30 

       And finally Saint Ambrose in his De institutione virginum

       "'This door will be closed and it will not be opened.' This good door is Mary, who was closed and was not opened. Christ passed through her but did not open her...There is a door of the womb, although it is not always closed; indeed only one was able to remain closed, she through whom the virgin's offspring came forth without loss of genital intactness. Hence the Prophet (Ezech. 42:2) says: 'This door will remain closed: it will not be opened, and none will pass through it, that is no man; because the Lord, he says, the God of Israel will pass through it. And it will remain closed, that is before and after the passage of the Lord it will be closed; and it will not be opened by anyone, nor has it been opened.'" 9 31

       Father Fehlner summarizes the significance of these three references:


       "From all the references which Vatican II might have chosen to illustrate the faith of the Church in our Lady's virginal integrity at childbirth these three, utterly unequivocal, are found in the definitive text. No clearer indication could have been given that this mystery, inseparable from the Nativity of the Savior, is of crucial importance to the faith as such. Even the slightest question or doubt about the reality or meaning of that mystery, whether it concerns the Mother or the Child cannot be tolerated." 32

       Father Fehlner concludes his treatment concerning the Magisterial pronouncements on the Virgin Birth, with a citation from an allocution of Pope John Paul II, given to a group of scholars assembled to commemorate the 16th centenary of the Plenary Council of Capua, which dealt with Our Lady's Perpetual Virginity: 

       "...It is necessary for the theologian, in presenting the Church's doctrine on Mary's virginity, to maintain the indispensable balance between stating the fact and elucidating its meaning. Both are integral parts of the mystery: the meaning, or symbolic value, of the event is based on the reality of the fact, and the latter, in turn reveals all its richness only if its symbolic meanings are unfolded.

       "In confessing her faith in the Mother of God's virginity, the Church proclaims as factually true that Mary of Nazareth: - truly conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit without human intervention; - truly and virginally gave birth to her Son, for whom she remained a virgin after birth; a virgin - according to the holy Fathers and Councils which expressly dealt with this question... - also in everything which concerns the integrity of the flesh; - lived in total and perpetual virginity after Jesus' birth; and together with St. Joseph, who was also called to play a primary role in the initial events of our salvation, devoted himself to serving the person and work of her son" (cf. Lumen Gentium, No. 56). 33

       And finally let us look at a few of the prophecies and types of Our Lady's Perpetual Virginity in Holy Scripture. Of course the foundational prophecy is Isaiah 7:14, which is definitively interpreted in Matthew 1:23 : "Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." St. Justin the Martyr (circa 165) discusses this prophecy in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew

       "Moreover, the prophecy, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,' was uttered respecting Him. For if He to whom Isaiah referred was not to be begotten of a virgin, of whom did the Holy Spirit declare, 'Behold, the Lord Himself shall give us a sign: behold the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son?' For if He also were to be begotten of sexual intercourse, like all other first-born sons, why did God say that He would give a sign which is not common to all the first-born sons? But that which is truly a sign, and which was to be made trustworthy to mankind, - namely, that the first-begotten of all creation should become incarnate by the Virgin's womb, and be a child...But you in these matters venture to pervert the expositions which your elders that were with Ptolemy king of Egypt gave forth, since you assert that the Scripture is not so as they have expounded it, but says, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive,' as if great events were to be inferred if a woman should beget from sexual intercourse: which indeed all young women, with the exception of the barren, do...So that you must not suppose that it is impossible for God to do anything He wills. And especially when it was predicted that this would take place, do not venture to pervert or misinterpret the prophecies, since you will injure yourselves alone, and will not harm God." 34

       Fr. Raymond Brown predictably writes: "I assume the common scholarly agreement that the Hebrew of Isa 7:14 has nothing to do with virginal conception." 35 But Origen, one of the first and greatest textual critics, who probably forgot more Hebrew than Brown ever learned, makes exactly the same point as St. Justin in his Against Celsus

       "...But that we may not seem, because of a Hebrew word, to endeavor to persuade those who are unable to determine whether they ought to believe it or not, that the prophet spoke of this man being born of a virgin, because at his birth these words, 'God with us,' were uttered, let us make good our point from the words themselves. The Lord is related to have spoken to Ahaz thus: 'Ask a sign for thyself from the Lord thy God, either in the depth or the height above'; and afterwards the sign is given, 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.' What kind of a sign, then, would that have been - a young woman who was not a virgin giving birth to a child? And which of the two is more appropriate as the mother of Immanuel (i.e., 'God with us'), - whether a woman who has had intercourse with a man, and who has conceived after the manner of women, or one who is still a pure and holy virgin? Surely it is appropriate only to the latter to produce a being at whose birth it is said 'God with us.'" 36

       In Vespers of the Little Office of Our Lady, two beautiful types of Our Lady's Perpetual Virginity, Gideon's fleece and the burning bush, appear one after the other, in the antiphons for the second and third psalms for the time After Advent. Here is the Scriptural account of Gideon's fleece: 

       I will put this fleece of wool on the floor: if there be dew on the fleece only, and it be dry on all the ground beside, I shall know that by my hand, as thou has said, thou wilt deliver Israel. And it was so. And rising before day wringing the fleece, he filled a vessel with the dew. And he said again to God: Let not thy wrath be kindled against me if I try once more, seeking a sign in the fleece. I pray that the fleece only may be dry, and all the ground wet with dew. And God did that night as he had requested: and it was dry on the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:37-40) 

       Here is Cornelius à Lapide's commentary on this passage: 

       "In the same sermon 'On the Nativity of Mary' [by St. Bernard]: 'O Man, look closely at the counsel of God, know the counsel of wisdom, the counsel of piety. He, about to water the ground with celestial dew, first watered the fleece; about to redeem the human race, he bestowed the universal reward on Mary.' From henceforth the Church in the antiphon of Prime and the second antiphon of Vespers, sings thus: 'When you were unutterably born of the Virgin, then the Scriptures were fulfilled; like rain onto a fleece, you descended, to save the human race.'

       "Moreover, first the sign was fulfilled in the conception of the Virgin, for then she alone conceived in her womb the heavenly dew, that is the divine Word, the earth being left, that is all other women, remaining dry and not sharing in this dew; later in her delivery, when she in giving birth to Christ, poured out this dew onto the earth, she herself remained as if empty and as if dry." 37

       And here is the Scriptural account of the burning bush: 

       And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt. (Exodus 3:2,3) 

       And again Cornelius à Lapide: 

       "Again however much Calvin may bark on account of it, the fire in the bush is God, conceived in the Blessed Virgin and born by means of her happy virginity. Thus Theodoret, Rupert, St. Bernard in his sermon 'On the Blessed Mary,' and on Apocalypse 12: "A great sign appeared," and Gregory of Nyssa, in his oration 'On the Nativity of Christ': 'Like the bush,' he says, 'she blazes and is not burned. In like manner also the Virgin gave birth to the light and is not harmed.' Hence the whole Church sings: 'We acknowledge in the burning bush, which Moses had seen, your praiseworthy virginity preserved, O holy Mother of God.'" 38

       We have seen St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose comment on Ezechiel's beautiful vision of the Temple: 

       And he brought me back to the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary, which looked towards the east: and it was shut. And the Lord said to me: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it: because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it, and it shall be shut. (44:1,2) 

       Let me conclude by returning to the allocution of Pope John Paul II on the Perpetual Virginity of Our Blessed Lady. The Holy Father draws a parallel, common to the Fathers and Doctors, between the sealed tomb of Our Lord and the sealed womb of Our Lady, despite Fr. Karl Rahner's objection: "Many elements in the de facto tradition must certainly be rejected as theologically unsound, e.g. the parallels drawn with the resurrection." 31 In St. Matthew's Gospel we read: 

       And the next day, which followed the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate, saying: Sir, we have remembered that that seducer said, while he was yet alive: After three days I will rise again. Command therefore the sepulcher to be guarded until the third day: lest perhaps his disciples come and steal him away, and say to the people: He is risen from the dead; and the last error shall be worst than the first. Pilate saith to them: You have a guard; go, guard it as you know. And they departing, made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting guards. (27:62-66) 

       On Easter Sunday morning Our Lord passed through the stone tomb, leaving it still sealed. Or as Father Feeney so beautifully put it in a poem entitled "Resurrection" : 

                                            In crocus fashion, sunlight-wise,

                                            The Body of Our Lord

                                            Slipped through the stone-bound sepulcher,

                                            Streamed through the soldier's sword. 40

       And here is the Holy Father: 

       "In adoring reflection on the mystery of the incarnation of the Word, one discerns a particularly important relationship between the beginnings and the end of Christ's earthly life; that is, between the virginal conception and his resurrection from the dead, two truths which are closely connected with faith in Jesus' divinity.

       "They belong to the deposit of faith; they are professed by the whole Church and they have been expressly stated in creeds. History shows that doubts or uncertainty about one has inevitable repercussions on the other, just as, on the contrary, humble and strong assent to one of them fosters the warm acceptance of the other.

       "It is a well-known fact that some Church Fathers set us a significant parallel between the begetting of Christ ex intacta Virgine and his resurrection ex intacto sepulchro. In the parallelism relative to the begetting of Christ, some Fathers put the emphasis on the virginal conception, others on the virgin birth, others on the subsequent perpetual virginity of the Mother, but they all testify to the conviction that between the two saving events - the generation - birth of Christ and his resurrection from the dead - there exists an intrinsic connection which corresponds to a precise plan of God: a connection which the Church led by the Spirit, has discovered, not created." 24 41 

       Father Fehlner says that among the Fathers of the Church, whom the Holy Father cites in support of this teaching, is St. Peter Chrysologus (c. 406 - c. 450), Bishop of Ravenna, who writes: 

       "Him whom clausa virginitas had brought to this life, the clausum sepulchrum would return to eternal life. It is characteristic of divinity to leave the Virgin sealed after birth; it is also characteristic of divinity to go out from the sealed tomb with the body." 42

       I am concluding this little paper either by accident or by Providence, I hope the latter, on Easter Sunday, and I thought it appropriate to conclude with one of Father Feeney's favorite poems, Richard Crashaw's (d. 1649) "To Our Blessed Lord Upon the Choice of His Sepulchre."

 

                                          How life and death in Thee

                                          Agree!

                                          Thou hadst a virgin womb,

                                          And tomb.

                                          A Joseph did betroth

                                          Them both. 43

Easter Sunday, 
April, 3, 1994.

 

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References

 

1. G.K. Chesterton, The Queen of Seven Swords, Sheed and Ward, London, 1926, p.12.

2. Fr. Michael O'Carroll, S.S.Sp., Theotokos, A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael Glazier, Wilmington, DL, 1983, p.357.

3. Origen, Against Celsus, Book I, Chap.XXXII, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Volume IV), edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D. and James Donaldson; cf. also Origen, Contra Celsum, I, 32, tr. H. Chadwick, Cambridge, p.31, n.3.

4. Mamzer, bastard, Ben-Yehuda's Pocket English Hebrew Dictionary, New York, NY, 1962. "A mamzer, that is to say, one born of a prostitute, shall not enter into the church of the Lord, until the tenth generation" (Deuteronomy, 23:2, Douay-Rheims).

5. St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, The History of Heresies and Their Refutation, translated from the Italian by Right Rev. Dr. Mullock, Bishop of Newfoundland, James Duffy, Dublin, 1857, p.35.

6. A. Mitterer, Dogma und Biologie der Heilegen Familie, Wien, Herder, 1952.

7. Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, F.F.I., Virgin Mother the Great Sign, AMI Press, Washington, NJ, 1993.

8. Analecta Ordinis Fratrum Minorum Capuchinorum, June- July, 1960, p.172; translated from the Italian by Bro. Paschal Shea, O.S.B.: cf. Ephemerides Marilogicae 11 (1961), pp.136,137.

9. O'Carroll, Op. cit., p.361.

10. Fr. Ralph Wiltgen, S.V.D., The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, Hawthorne Books Inc., New York, p.91.

11 Henry Brownson, Latter Life, H.F. Brownson, Detroit, 1900, pp.265,266.

12. Fr. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Virginal Conception and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Paulist Press, New York, 1973, p.38, n.48.

13. Brown, Op. cit. p.25, n.26.

14. Idem, p.61.

15. Idem, p.66.

16. Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J., "Virginitas in Partu," Theological Investigations, Volume IV, translated from the German by Kevin Smyth, The Seabury Press, New York, 1974, p.156.

17. Rahner, Op. cit., pp.161,162.

18. Uta Ranke-Heineman, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, translated from the German by Peter Heinegg, Doublday, New York, 1990, p.30. I once heard this woman debate a priest on a television program on the historicity of the Infancy Narratives. She first got the priest to admit that the story of Adam and Eve was fictional, and then she asked him, "Well why don't you admit that the Christmas story is also fictional?" To me, the priest seemed completely ineffectual from then on. I could see immediately that you can't defend the historicity of the Infancy Narratives, unless you believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve, nor can you defend the Virgin Birth, unless you believe in the Protoevangelium.

19. Ranke-Heineman, Op. cit., p.342. This vulgar woman was removed by the bishop from her chair of Theology at the University of Essen, but she now holds the chair of the History of Religion at the same university. The situation must be similar to that of the infamous Mary Daley at BostonCollege. This woman has been an embarrassment to the administration for decades, but because they are so greedy for Federal handouts, they can't get rid of her. Ranke-Heineman's removal from the chair of Theology was of course picked up by the media, and she had immediate access to American TV and radio talk shows.

20. St. Jerome, Against Helvidius, The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume VI, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, B. Erdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1979, p.342.

21. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, Q.28, a.4.

22. The Loyolas and the Cabots, Part II: A Documentary Sequel, St. Benedict Center Archives, 1970, pp.43-48; cited in Thomas Mary Sennott, They Fought the Good Fight, Catholic Treasures, Monrovia, CA, 1987, p.248.

23. Fr. Paul Dudon, S.J., St. Ignatius of Loyola, translated from the French by Fr. William J. Young, S.J., Bruce Publishing Co., Milwaukee, 1949, pp.52,53.

 

        While Father Feeney was capable of satire and invective in the style of St. Jerome, he also liked to poke fun at his adversaries, often in the form of doggerel limericks:

                                                           Harold J.

                                                           Ockengay

                                                           was threatening to go away

                                                           but some he got to

                                                           ask him not to,

                                                           now he's threatening to stay.

24. St. Thomas, Op. cit., III, Q.28, a.1.

25. Idem, III, Q.28, a.2.

26. Idem, III, Q.28, a.3.

27. Lumen Gentium, no.57; cited in Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, F.F.I., Virgin Mother the Great Sign, AMI Press, Washington, NJ, 1993, p.21.

28. Fehlner, Op. cit., p.21.

29. Fehlner, p.14, n.15; Cf. De Aldama, Virgo Mater, pp.101-127. The translations used in this essay are based on the texts cited by Father De Aldama.

30. Fehlner, p.12; n.12 PL 54, 759.

31. Idem,p.9; n.9 PL 16, 320.

32. Idem, p.22.

33. L'Osservatore Romano (English edition) Jume 10, 1992, pp.13,14; cf. Fehlner, pp.34,35.

34. St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Christian Literature Publishing Co., Buffalo, NY, 1885, Chap. LXXXIV, p.241.

       This is an Anglican edition of St. Justin and the editors are using either the King James or the Standard Version. But in the New Revised Standard Version, the Anglicans have gone over to the Jewish version, the Massoretic text, which St. Justin clearly says was perverted by the Jews. This same Revised Standard Version (RSV) is used today in many Catholic churches and religious houses.

35. Brown, Op. cit., p.63, n.105.

36. St. Justin Martyr, Op. cit., Chap. XXXVI, p.411.

37. Cornelius à Lapide, Commentaria in Scripturam Sacram, Tomus Tertius, Commentria in Librum Judicum, Cap. III, Ludovicum Vives, Paris, 1881, p.155; translated from the Latin by Bro. John Post, M.I.C.M.

38. Cornelius à Lapide, Commentria in Scripturam Sacram, Tomus Primum, Commentria in Exodus, Cap. III, Ludovicum, Paris, 1868, p.453.

39. Rahner, Virginitas in Partu, Op. cit., p.151.

40. Fr. Leonard Feeney, "Resurrection," The Leonard Feeney Omnibus, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1943, p.357.

41. L'Osservatore Romano, June 10, 1992, p.13; cf. Fehlner, p.33.

42. St. Peter Chrysologus, Sermo 75, 3: CCL 24 A, p.460; cf. Fehlner, p.34.

43. The Religious Poems of Richard Crashaw, edited by R.A. Eric Shepherd, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1914, p.69.

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