Children of Mary

As I was explaining in my last post, back before I was reconciled to the Church, I “knew” a lot of things. I “knew” that Catholics had adulterated the Faith once delivered and compromised the teachings of Christ. I “knew” because I had learned this from other Protestants who just “knew.” It was a “known fact” that the Catholic Church had taken the doctrines taught by the apostles and perverted them, adding the teachings of men. The Church played fast and loose with doctrinal truths. To ensure that their little scam was never uncovered, the Church strongly discouraged (i.e., FORBADE) Bible reading. I and everyone like me just “knew” that the Bible had never been translated into a local, understandable language of the people before Martin Luther came along and broke the Catholic stranglehold on the Scriptures, because, you see, if Catholics had been allowed to pick up a Bible and read it for themselves, they would have realized that they were being cultivated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and nurtured with doctrinal guano!

The most glaring examples of this, I would have told you if you had bothered to ask me, were Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; 6:3, Matthew 13:55-56, John 2:12, and John 7:3-10. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” As the Bible CLEARLY states, Jesus had brothers and sisters. Yet Catholic doctrine teaches that Mary was not only a virgin at the birth of Christ, but remained a virgin for the rest of her life!

I rest my case! How unscriptural can you get??

It is a matter of public record that the Catholic Church refuses to admit that Jesus had brothers and sisters! Yet the Bible p-l-a-i-n-l-y tells us that his brothers and his sisters went out to stop Him from preaching! On top of that, the book of Acts tells us that the apostles gathered in the Upper Room to await the Holy Spirit, together with “Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.” On top of that, Paul says Jesus had a brother (“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”) On top of that, Luke tells us that Mary brought forth her FIRSTBORN(!), and Matthew says that Joseph knew Mary not, UNTIL she had given birth to Jesus.

All of this I got straight from the Bible, so I felt like I was on pretty solid ground when I insisted that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, but after she and Joseph got back to Nazareth more kids eventually came along!

Of course, if you had asked me, I might have admitted that there were a few “difficulties” with my proofs that Mary had other children. For example, the fact is that the Bible calls Jesus “THE” Son of Mary, and that no other person is ever referred to as a son or daughter of Mary. In other words, these “brothers and sisters” of Jesus are never called “Mary’s children.” And the term “firstborn” simply means “the child who opens the womb.” The Old Testament says that every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord – people didn’t wait around to see if God would bless them with a “secondborn” before considering their first son set aside unto the Lord! And as for the “until” objection, there is that statement Jesus made at His Ascension about being with us to the end of the age (“unto the end of the world” or “until the end of time” in other versions). Does that mean “after the end of the age you’re on your own, folks!“?

And if you had asked me, I might have admitted that it struck me as bizarrely counter-cultural the way Jesus’ “younger brothers” had treated Him. After all, He was the eldest, and in Middle Eastern cultures, respect for one’s elders is ingrained. After Joseph died, Jesus would have been the head of the family – yet his “younger siblings” at one point sally forth to try to drag Him forcibly back to Nazareth! I had to admit, from a Middle Eastern point of view that sounded pretty far-fetched. It certainly seemed that we were projecting our modern-day American total lack of respect onto Jesus’ younger “brothers”….

If you had asked me to reconcile these difficulties, I might have realized that it seemed a lot more plausible that these “younger brothers” were actually OLDER than Jesus, which is why they felt Jesus could be pushed around. If they were older than He was, then of course they would have felt justified in trying to bring their “little brother” back into line.

But how could they have been older than Jesus? He was, after all, Mary’s firstborn….

Pondering this, I might have realized that they could have been Joseph’s sons, not Mary’s! Joseph could have been a widower when he became betrothed to Mary, not an unusual situation at all. Remember, Joseph apparently died when Jesus was relatively young; he could have been an older man when he married Mary. Or, the “brothers” could simply have been related to Jesus in some way, yet not have been actual brothers (Protestants believe, after all, that these men were not actual brothers of Jesus – according to the Protestant understanding they would have been no closer than half-brothers.) In the Hebrew Old Testament, for example, we hear Abram saying to Lot, “We are brothers!” Were they? Nope – Abram was Lot’s uncle. What Abram meant was “We’re related.” To this day, many cultures use terms like “brother” and “uncle” much more loosely than we do. When I, a 21st-century American, introduce someone as my “aunt,” I mean she is either my mother’s sister or my father’s sister. But if you had asked me, I would have remembered that when I first went to my husband’s hometown in Taiwan, he began introducing all of his “aunts” and “uncles” to me. When we reached Aunt #27, I began to become suspicious….

These possibilities also clear up a minor problem at the Crucifixion, where Jesus looks down in love at His mother and nods towards John the beloved disciple, saying, “Behold, your son.” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. Seriously, if Mary had all those other children, what was Jesus doing entrusting her to John? But if Jesus was her only child, that passage made a lot of sense.

And what did the early Christians believe? If you had asked me, I could have looked it up and discovered that the early Christians had a word for folks who believed as I did – they called us antidicomarianites (those who oppose Mary)! In the fourth century an antidicomarianite named Helvidius wrote a pamphlet denouncing the belief that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and was answered by none other than St. Jerome in his aptly-named “Against Helvidius.” “I must call upon the Holy Spirit to express His meaning by my mouth and defend the virginity of Blessed Mary,” Jerome wrote. “I must call upon the Lord Jesus to guard the sacred lodging of the womb in which He abode for ten months from all suspicion of sexual intercourse. And I must also entreat God the Father to show that the mother of His Son, who was a mother before she was a bride, continued a virgin after her son was born.”

Jerome used the Bible to refute Helvidius’ points one-by-one, writing that Helvidius “is utterly refuted by the authority of the same Scripture” as he cites verse after verse against the “until” objection and the “firstborn” problem. Jerome then held up second-century Church Fathers in support of Mary’s perpetual virginity as proof that Christians had always held this belief. To those Fathers can be added St. Jerome’s contemporaries who wrote:

Let those, therefore, who deny that the Son is by nature from the Father and proper to his essence deny also that he took true human flesh from the ever-virgin Mary – St. Athanasius

If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate – St. Hilary of Poitiers

It helps us to understand the terms ‘first-born’ and ‘only-begotten’ when the Evangelist tells that Mary remained a virgin ‘until she brought forth her first-born son’ [Matt. 1:25]; for neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone else, nor did she ever become the Mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever an immaculate virgin – Didymus the Blind

Imitate her [Mary], holy mothers, who in her only dearly beloved Son set forth so great an example of material virtue; for neither have you sweeter children [than Jesus], nor did the Virgin seek the consolation of being able to bear another son – St. Ambrose

Scripture frequently gives the name of brethren, not to those only who are born of the same womb, or the same father, but to those of the same generation, cousins by the father’s or mother’s side. Those who are unacquainted with this were of speaking, ask, Whence has our Lord brothers? Did Mary bring forth again? That could not be: with her commenced the dignity of the virgin state. Abraham was uncle of Lot, and Jacob was nephew to Laban the Syrian. Yet Abraham and Lot are called brethren; and likewise Jacob and Laban – St. Augustine

Would I as a Protestant have been convinced by this reasoning, or would I have responded along the lines of Awww, come on! Which part of “brothers and sisters” don’t you Catholics understand?? Who would be dumb enough to buy into Jerome’s arguments?!

Well, Martin Luther, for one….

…in childbirth and after childbirth, as she was a virgin before childbirth, so she remained.

Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ [in Jn 2:12] really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.

And John Calvin for another….

This passage [Mt 1:25] afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.

“The word brothers [Mt 13:55], we have formerly mentioned, is employed, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, to denote any relatives whatever; and, accordingly, Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s brothers are sometimes mentioned.”

Okay, well, Luther and Calvin weren’t right about everything, (I would have told you) – that’s why I’m an Evangelical!

Fine, how about Ulrich Zwingli?

I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary.

And I believe that this humanity was conceived of the Virgin, made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and was brought forth by preserving her perpetual virginity, that He, who from eternity was born Lord and God from a Father without mother, might be born into the world as deliverer and healer of souls from a virgin mother….

I firmly believe that [Mary], according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.

And Heinrich Bullinger?

The Virgin Mary . . . completely sanctified by the grace and blood of her only Son and abundantly endowed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and preferred to all . . . now lives happily with Christ in heaven and is called and remains ever-Virgin and Mother of God.

Look, those men grew up steeped in Catholic teaching. They needed time to get their theology straight! Had they lived 200 years later, for example, they never would have fallen for such malarkey!

Like John Wesley?

I believe that He was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one Person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.

And you’ve got to admit, it’s hard to claim that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger and Wesley didn’t read their Bibles, yet I thought ignorance of the Scriptures caused Catholics to embrace the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

You see, my Catholic friend, if you had asked me to look into it, I would have realized that Luther insisted not only that Mary bore no children besides Jesus, but also that we, as Jesus’ “brothers and sisters,” are all children of Mary!

Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees . . . If He is ours, we ought to be in His situation; there where He is, we ought also to be and all that He has ought to be ours, and His mother is also our mother.

And I might have seen that that is quite consistent with the Catholic interpretation of John 19:26-27

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

As well as the Catholic understanding of Revelation 12:17

So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?

Biologically speaking, no – He certainly did not. The perpetual virginity of Mary is a doctrine supported by Scripture and adhered to by noted Catholic and Protestant theologians alike. Spiritually, however, Mary has been most fruitful. As the Church Fathers put it, she is “the mother of all the living.” All believers are “children of Mary;” she is the mother of Catholic “you” and even of little old Protestant “me”….

So, really, only one question remains:

Seriously, why didn’t you Catholics ask me to explain this stuff to you sooner??


On the memorial of St. Anthony of Padua

Deo omnis gloria!

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