Luke 1:34 and Mary's quesiton


#1

In the Gospel according to Saint Luke we read:
[BIBLEDRB]Luke 1:34[/BIBLEDRB]
Now, I am reading Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth –The Infancy Narratives, and in the book His Holiness writes:

(Translated, I’m reading the German version)
Since Augustine’s time, the question about the meaning of the question was answered in the following way: Mary supposedly took a vow of virginity and was betrothed to Joseph so she would have a protector. But this reconstruction is totally foreign to Judaism at the time of Jesus and it doesn’t seem plausible.

On Catholic Answers Live (and the website, I think) I have heard argued in the affirmative precisely what Benedict is rejecting here, with the same insistence that he displays. This verse was used as evidence of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. Is there any more information on this? What’s your opinion?


#2

You will probably get a lot of answers, expressed in varying degrees of certainty, but the bottom line is that the best any of us can do is guess. We’re 2000 years removed from the event, and the primary participants left no detailed written explanations of their respective statuses.

What is significant to me is 1) Mary was betrothed to Joseph, with the expectation of being taken into his home as his wife, but 2) her response to Gabriel, when he told her that she was going to conceive and bear a son, was, “How can this be, seeing that (=because) I do not know (= have sexual relations with” a man?" To my limited intellect, it would seem that the response of a young betrothed woman who was expecting to enter into a complete (i.e., with sexual relations) with her husband upon hearing news like the would be something like, “Oh goody! Joseph will be so pleased!” I find it very significant that Mary said something quite different. However, as to why she said what she said, I’m not going to hazard a guess. I’ll leave that for the rest of the respondents.


#3

We have to remember that Benedict was writing as a theologian not as pope when he made this observation. Also, I believe he was influenced by the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, which cannot really tell us much about Judaism at the time except what Scripture does not say, which is not convincing either way.

As a woman who was expecting to marry, it seems strange that she wouldn’t have referred to her betrothed, but to her state of being at the time of the annunciation. Her leaving Joseph out of the picture does say something about her state of mind and what she expected from her marriage. I’d have assumed, as did other OT women who were told they were going to conceive a son under miraculous circumstances that my husband/betrothed was to be the father. That would be the natural assumption on such a woman’s part.

But Mary didn’t assume that, so she either had pledged her virginity to God with Joseph understanding he was to be a guardian only, or she was open to whatever God might want for her even if it meant Joseph was not to be the father. I don’t think it had entered her mind, as that precise moment, that the child would be conceived without a human father, hence her question. Perhaps she thought another man was to be her husband. We really cannot know just what was going through her mind, but these scenarios seem the most likely to me.


#4

I am aware that the Protoevangelium is not canonical. However, it is likely (to me) that parts of it is true, and I am inclined to believe that Mary was offered in the temple at age three. When it was time for her to leave (age 15?) Joseph was to be her protector, as she vowed to not “know man”.

I remember reading that St. Jerome’s understanding is that Mary answered the way she did because she intended to be a virgin always. If she had intended to have relations with Joseph, she would not have had to ask the question at all.

Now, I must try and find that information from St. Jerome’s writings on the internet. :slight_smile:


#5

Yes, the early Church Fathers held that this was Mary’s intention in asking her question. I personally bow to their scholarship and closer proximity in time and culture to the Annunciation. :slight_smile:

However, from the bare text itself, we cannot draw any particular conclusion, which is what I believe Benedict was saying. This does not mean that St. Jerome and others were wrong, of course. Theologians have to look at such passages from every angle. They look at all the evidence. Taking one comment out of a book really doesn’t do the book/author justice, IMHO. Ruminating on a given issue is not the same thing as denying a truth once it has been defined–at least not for professional theologians, which is what Benedict was/is even while being pope.


#6

Well, Benedict is arguably the greatest theologian alive today. The wording of the quote I provided, however, suggested to me that he doesn’t believe that Mary vowed virginity, since he references Saint Augustine as the source, not the text.


#7

I don’t think we can go so far as to say what Benedict believes based on this line from his book. And St. Augustine also was a theologian wrestling with such issues, so whatever he wrote is also his speculations, not doctrine or dogma. We are free to speculate on what we think Mary intended with her words, but we are not free to believe she didn’t remain a virgin. There is a vast difference between the two. :slight_smile:


#8

I remember being confused by that part also, and then I was all let down because he just left it hanging! (still love him though, :wink: and the rest of the book I found helpful.)

But like Della said, (and Pope Benedict himself said in the forward to his first volume) he’s writing as a theologian, not as pope, so we can disagree with him.

Personally, I’m not sure how much the fact that consecrated virginity was rare in Mary’s time really matters. To me, that doesn’t make much of a difference, since the whole situation with the Incarnation itself was unique. It makes sense the events surrounding it would be unique as well. I still find that verse a good argument for the Perpetual virginity, since her question really doesn’t make sense otherwise. But it doesn’t prove it, and the dogma doesn’t depend on that interpretation either.

Anyway, not sure if that was any help, but those are just my thoughts.


#9

Good points. :thumbsup:


#10

The Father does reveal lots to the unlearned and hide lots from the learned, though.

Besides the fact that the Church Fathers since Augustine’s days [and before] mention the vow of virginity of Our Lady, several people even in recent times (ex, 1, 2) point out a very simple fact:

Our Lady uses the present indicative: “I do not know man” (ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω). She does not merely affirm that she has been a virgin so far.

Now, our Lady was already betrothed to St. Joseph (cf. Luke 1:27) – she had not yet come into his home, but she was soon to do so (cf. Matthew 1:18,24). It would have been a most natural conclusion that the child would have been the child of Joseph, wouldn’t it?? Why would she ask a question like: “How shall this be done”?

The Blessed Virgin could only ask this question of the angel, if she had some good reason for thinking that the child would not be the son of Joseph. The only reason for which Our Lady would have been confused by the angel’s words is* if she had already made a vow of virginity to God*.

This is what St. Gregory of Nyssa points out some 1700 years ago!

if Joseph had taken her to be his wife, for the purpose of having children, why would she have wondered at the announcement of maternity, since she herself would have accepted becoming a mother according to the Law of nature? But just as it was necessary to guard the body consecrated to God as an untouched and holy offering, for this same reason, she states, even if you are an angel come down from heaven and even if this phenomenon is beyond man’s abilities, yet it is impossible for me to know man. How shall I become a mother without [knowing] man?

In his General Audience of August 7, 1996, Blessed John Paul II, teaching publicly in his authority of Pope, made a similar affirmation:

Neither the Gospels nor any other New Testament writings tell us when Mary decided to remain a virgin. However, it is clearly apparent from her question to the angel at the time of the annunciation that she had come to a very firm decision. Mary did not hesitate to express her desire to preserve her virginity even in view of the proposed motherhood, showing that her intention had matured over a long period.


#11

=CutlerB;11656333]In the Gospel according to Saint Luke we read:
[BIBLEDRB]Luke 1:34[/BIBLEDRB]
Now, I am reading Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth –The Infancy Narratives, and in the book His Holiness writes:

On Catholic Answers Live (and the website, I think) I have heard argued in the affirmative precisely what Benedict is rejecting here, with the same insistence that he displays. This verse was used as evidence of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. Is there any more information on this? What’s your opinion?

First it means Mary WAS [and shall always remain] a Virgin.

I find Benedicts position new and interesting but it remains one mans opinion, not a doctrinal teaching. He’s certainly better in formed than am I :smiley: But it does effect WHAT IS DOGMA: Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.:thumbsup:

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

God Bless you,
Patrick


#12

My understanding of this passage in Pope Benedict’s book is that he is citing the overwhelming historical/critical evidence, which is that it would be VERY unlike a young Jewish maiden to take a vow of virginity, based on what we can possibly know of those times, (which isn’t much.)

BUT!

Then he contrasts this standard modern exegesis to the many implausible reasons conjectured by these same historical/critical exegetes for the Virgin Mary’s response. Pope Benedict’s conclusion is that none of them are satisfactory, and it therefore must remain a mystery, even to this day.

IOW, I think, Pope Benedict is leaving it to US to come to the obvious conclusion; what the Church Fathers have said all along!

So I don’t BY ANY MEANS think that Pope Benedict believes what modern exegetes offer as an alternative, which leads me to think he is with us also! Since it flies in the face of normal 2nd temple Judaism practice, it can’t possibly be true… or can it?! :wink: That’s a wink from Pope Benedict :slight_smile:


#13

As I continue to mull over this issue as presented by Pope Benedict I think another possible answer is that maybe the idea that the Virgin Mary made a conscious vow of virginity is not quite accurate. Maybe the Pope is saying that we don’t really know the circumstances that led to the virgin Mary replying to the angel “I know not man.” IOW, if we grant that the Virgin Mary took a vow of virginity, then we would be faced with the question of why she would do such a non-Jewish thing? Since there is no ready answer to that question, we can’t really make the assertion that she took a vow of virginity either.

What Pope Benedict is definitely saying though, is that the Virgin Mary was firm in her knowledge that she could not have the child in the normal way, which the Angel confirms. Why was this? That is what Pope Benedict is saying no one knows.

However, the net result was AS IF she had taken a vow of virginity. That is not denied by Pope Benedict. Maybe Pope Benedict is suggesting that we be open to the possibility of a mystery that will never be solved in this lifetime.


#14

Something I think that has been overlooked in talking about what Jewish women would/wouldn’t vow is Anna the prophetess. Here was a woman who had been widowed quite young, and yet, instead of getting married again, as was the usual custom, spent the remainder of her life worshipping in the temple. From this I believe we can gather that, although unusual, such vows were not unheard of nor forbidden.

It is perfectly possible that Mary had taken such a vow and that Joseph too had vowed to remain chaste. Such a scenario does fit with Mary’s response, but as I wrote earlier, Mary may simply have been so open to God’s will that she would have been willing to marry another, if Joseph was not to be the father, to fulfill Gabriel’s announcement to her. This may be why Gabriel went on to explain the nature of Jesus’ conception more fully.

Only they (and God) can really know what each meant by what they said–at least for now. We may come to know the whole of it when Jesus comes again, if God wishes us to know that. Only God and Mary may ever know just what was in her heart and mind with her question to Gabriel.


#15

[quote=Della]Something I think that has been overlooked in talking about what Jewish women would/wouldn’t vow is Anna the prophetess. Here was a woman who had been widowed quite young, and yet, instead of getting married again, as was the usual custom, spent the remainder of her life worshipping in the temple. From this I believe we can gather that, although unusual, such vows were not unheard of nor forbidden.

[/quote]

Good point. :thumbsup: Just because something is unusual does not mean it couldn’t happen. Of course with Anna it would have been a vow of celibacy not virginity (or so we would assume.)

There were also temple virgins. But they would not have been lifelong virgins, just in their early years.

I think the real problem (at least in Pope Benedicts line of thought) is that IF we say she made a vow of virginity it begs the question of WHY. Since we can’t answer that, it would be hard to argue (in a world of historical/critical exegesis) the other.

However, in a pious sense, it would be perfectly acceptable. Through the eyes of Faith we can see what is hidden from the world. That is why it is completely acceptable for the Early Church Fathers to explain this as a vow of virginity. But even they don’t pry into the Virgin Mary’s motives for such a vow, unless I am mistaken.

It is a teaching of the Church that Mary was a perpetual virgin. So whether she made a vow or not, the end result is still the same as if she had made a vow. :wink:

We also must consider St. Joseph. Was this vow consonant with her marriage to St. Joseph? Perhaps it was. But again, we don’t KNOW how, or why.

Some believe St. Joseph was a perpetual virgin himself, and that God brought them together, with not just this one thing in common, but ultimately for the Incarnation itself.
But there is nothing in Sacred Scripture to assure us of this. So it is only pious conjecture.

Some might believe that St. Joseph was old (as described in the Protoevangelium) with adult children of his own. This story of course was to facilitate and gloss over the problem of a virginal marriage, as well as to safeguard the perpetual virginity of Mary.


#16

The venerable Haycock’s Catholic Bible Commentary relies heavily on the ECF’s opinions for his exegesis of the text. And that’s fine–nothing wrong with that, of course. I lean more towards the spiritual explanation, as well because it seems to fit with what we know of Mary–that she was a person of deep prayer and silence–one for whom being open to God’s will in all things was seemingly second nature.

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that both she and Joseph wished to have a celibate marriage–one convenient to them both within the context of their times when men and women were expected to marry and have children. After all, there were no convents or monasteries for them to dedicate themselves to God if they were not Levites who were to serve in the Temple, as did Zechariah, and even he/they did not remain celibate and/or chaste.

Anyway, we cannot know with absolute certainty what either Mary or Joseph intended, but, as you say, we do know the results, which is all that really matters for us. For them it must have been quite challenging dealing with such mysteries dropped into their lives. None of us will ever have such an important challenge in our own lives, that’s for sure. I think that makes it hard for us to relate to what they did in their case. But considering that Mary was conceived without sin and was full of grace, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn she did make a vow of chastity even within marriage. It would not have been out of character for her.


#17

Actually,** we know**. We know because Sacred Tradition tells us, and the Deposit of Faith is not made of Scriptrue alone.

We know also from reason alone: by the very question of Our Lady it is obvious that she intended to preserve her virginity even after her marriage (otherwise the answer to “How shall this come to be?” would have been quite obvious: in a most natural union with her future husband Joseph). Obviously Joseph knew about this, for he would not enter into the marital bound only to find out later that his wife had made a vow to the Lord, and she would not have hidden this from her future husband.

All else is beautiful historical speculation, and it is nice to learn that some thing seemed to be extraneous to the culture of the time, thus rendering her vow quite unique…but in studying the history of Christianity we must keep in mind the warning of the holy pontiff Pius X in Lamentabili Sane and Pascendi Dominici Gregis where he wrote:

With truly lamentable results, our age, casting aside all restraint in its search for the ultimate causes of things, frequently pursues novelties so ardently that it rejects the legacy of the human race. Thus it falls into very serious errors, which are even more serious when they concern sacred authority, the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, and the principal mysteries of Faith.

we have that distinction, so current among the Modernists, between the Christ of history and the Christ of faith; the Church of history and the Church of faith; the sacraments of history and the sacraments of faith, and so in similar matters.

Next we find that the human element itself, which the historian has to work on, as it appears in the documents, is to be considered as having been transfigured by faith, that is to say, raised above its historical conditions.

It becomes necessary, therefore, to eliminate also the accretions which faith has added, to relegate them to faith itself and to the history of faith.

Thus, when treating of Christ, the historian must set aside all that surpasses man in his natural condition, according to what psychology tells us of him, or according to what we gather from the place and period of his existence.

Finally, they require, by virtue of the third principle, that even those things which are not outside the sphere of history should pass through the sieve, excluding all and relegating to faith everything which, in their judgment, is not in harmony with what they call the logic of facts or not in character with the persons of whom they are predicated.

Thus, they will not allow that Christ ever uttered those things which do not seem to be within the capacity of the multitudes that listened to Him.

Hence they delete from His real history and transfer to faith all the allegories found in His discourses. We may peradventure inquire on what principle they make these divisions? Their reply is that they argue from the character of the man, from his condition of life, from his education, from the complexus of the circumstances under which the facts took place;

As history takes its conclusions from philosophy, so too criticism takes its conclusions from history. The critic on the data furnished him by the historian, makes two parts of all his documents. Those that remain after the triple elimination above described go to form the real history; the rest is attributed to the history of the faith or, as it is styled, to internal history.

For the Modernists distinguish very carefully between these two kinds of history, and it is to be noted that they oppose the history of the faith to real history precisely as real.

Thus, as we have already said, we have a twofold Christ: a real Christ, and a Christ, the one of faith, who never really existed; a Christ who has lived at a given time and in a given place, and a Christ who never lived outside the pious meditations of the believer – the Christ, for instance, whom we find in the Gospel of St. John, which, according to them, is mere meditation from beginning to end.

The Modernists have no hesitation in affirming generally that these books, and especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, have been gradually formed from a primitive brief narration, by additions, by interpolations of theological or allegorical interpretations, or parts introduced only for the purpose of joining different passages together.

Ideed, this history they actually do write, and with such an easy assurance that one might believe them to have seen with their own eyes the writers at work through the ages amplifying the Sacred Books. To aid them in this they call to their assistance that branch of criticism which they call textual, and labor to show that such a fact or such a phrase is not in its right place, adducing other arguments of the same kind. They seem, in fact, to have constructed for themselves certain types of narration and discourses, upon which they base their assured verdict as to whether a thing is or is not out of place.

The truth is that a whole multitude of Doctors, far superior to them in genius, in erudition, in sanctity, have sifted the Sacred Books in every way, and so far from finding in them anything blameworthy have thanked God more and more heartily the more deeply they have gone into them, for His divine bounty in having vouchsafed to speak thus to men.

While the Holy Father is here speaking on much higher issues and concerning very grave errors, we must keep in mind the basic principles he is teaching as part of his ordinary magisterium in order to see where does historical research step out of bounds.


#18

The book of a theologian, no matter who he may be, or someone’s misunderstanding of his writings, cannot possibly trample what we believe, even if those beliefs are not part of the infallible teachings of the faith. Our faith is so much more than Scripture.

The book mentioned not only questions the historicity of the vow of Our Lady but also the historicity of:

  • the existence of the three Wise Men
  • the presence of the animals in the manger
  • the account in Mt 27:25
  • the speech of Peter inspired by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:29
  • Mark 16:9-20 (added, he states, in the second century)

And includes mentions such as:

“In the light of Romans 11:25, the Church must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews [for ] Israel retains its own mission”

“the urgency of evangelization in the apostolic era was predicated not so much on the necessity for each individual to acquire knowledge of the Gospel in order to attain salvation, but rather on this grand conception of history: if the world was to arrive at its destiny, the Gospel had to be brought to all nations”

These personal opinions of a theologian are what they are: personal opinions. Perhaps they are meant to make us think out of the box. Perhaps they are meant to appeal to liberal Catholics or protestants. However, I am simply going to ignore this book, for it will soon be forgotten like many other such books have in the past.


#19

We know also from reason alone: by the very question of Our Lady it is obvious that she intended to preserve her virginity even after her marriage (otherwise the answer to “How shall this come to be?” would have been quite obvious: in a most natural union with her future husband Joseph). Obviously Joseph knew about this, for he would not enter into the marital bound only to find out later that his wife had made a vow to the Lord, and she would not have hidden this from her future husband.

Yes, you are right. The book doesn’t question these facts. What Pope Benedict has said is we don’t KNOW whether this was due to a vow of virginity that Mary had made. For example, what if the actual situation is exactly as you described: Mary had intended to preserve her virginity even after her marriage. Would this have required her to make a “vow of virginity” or would it have been an ongoing relationship she had with God and St. Joseph? I think perhaps Pope Benedict is saying the one is not the same as the other.


#20

To me, it is just confusing. We don’t know as in we don’t have an eyewitness account, but we do know inasmuch as, in my ignorance, I believe the Virgo Prudentissima would not have based her intention to preserve virginity on some feeble “ongoing commitment,” but on a permanent vow to the Almighty. Is this not what consecrated religious women have done through the centuries in imitation of and under the protection of Our Lady?


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