Mary's perpetual virginity

I want to ask about the evidence and the necessity in believing Mary was fully a virgin through out her life.

Now, i’m not going to raise the typical Protestant argument that she eventually had children. Most Protestants believe that this is “evident” due to the fact that Jesus appeared to have brothers. While this is an argument that we can dispute (like Joseph having a spouse prior to her, or the fact that brothers is a more general term during those days) how can a Catholic defend Mary’s perpetual virginity based on Scripture and a historical sense (did the christians prior to the 300’s believe this)?

Also, is it really a problem if Mary and Joseph did have intercourse (not all intercourses lead to children)? If her virginity ended sometime in her life, prior to Joseph’s death, how does this diminish her sinless life, her title of being the Mother of God and the mother of Christians? Having intercourse is one of the main natural things of a human being so why is it so important to believe that Mary was forever a virgin?

Mary was consecrated to God’s service, because her body was His Heaven for nine months. She was the new Ark of the Covenant. The house where Jesus lived was the true Temple where God was constantly present.

Anything that was connected with God’s service that was touched, would require the toucher to ritually cleanse himself before going back to normal human society. Touching the Ark of the Covenant was instant death, even if you meant well.

So let’s ask ourselves (or let’s have Joseph ask himself, since he was a righteous man) what a Jewish man who observed the Law righteously would do if God entrusted him with the care of the Ark of the Covenant, or even with one of the gold and silver vessels used in Temple sacrifice? Would he use the gold and silver vessels as normal dinnerware? Would that be a smart thing to do? Would he do it with God Himself living right there?

Joseph would also have been fully familiar with Ezekiel’s vision of the New Temple in the New Jerusalem, where the Lord entered through a gate that would then be forever closed to all but Him. He would have seen Mary give birth without the pain of labor, and heard the angels sing.

Joseph was in the position of having the Ark of the Covenant, not to mention GOD HIMSELF, living in his house. He wasn’t going to screw around with Mary, literally or figuratively. He would guard her and care for her and be her friend and brother, and he would protect her and take her into his home as a husband should. But he sure wasn’t going to try and find out the hard way what kind of horrible fate was reserved for someone who entered the closed gate, where only the Lord was allowed to pass.

I would also urge people to consult the story of Absalom, and ask themselves why it would be such a big deal that Absalom slept with David’s wives. Likewise, ask yourselves why it was a big deal which prince remarried David’s last, unconsummated wife, the Shunamite woman. Why? Because sleeping with a king’s wife meant stealing his sovereignty (or if the king was dead, it was an attempt to make yourself seen as his legal heir). Sleeping with the mother of one of his children was even more insulting, of course, because it made the paternity uncertain; but the Shunamite woman’s story shows that even sleeping with a virgin wife was really really not taken well, unless you really were the lawful king. (And if you were the lawful king, you should be getting your own wife, not doing some weird pagan thing. Marry the old king’s daughter, not his wife, duh.)

So why would Joseph have wanted to have sex with a woman who was essentially God’s wife (and mom), unless he had wanted to tell God, “I’m going to usurp your power and sleep with your woman, as part of my new House of David World Domination Plan”? Yeah, that would go over really really well.

Joseph was a righteous man. He was not a stupid man who wanted to die horribly.

Quit trying to kill the poor man! :slight_smile:

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Anyway… the point is not that Mary had to be a virgin or be diminished. The point is that the Church in all ages has said that Mary was a virgin and remained one, by her testimony to Luke and by what was known by people in the Church. The explanations of how this fulfilled various Biblical messianic prophecies came after the observed and described fact.

Joseph probably did have a lot of those prophecies in mind, though. Just not all of them. :slight_smile:

It was never an easy doctrine to preach, or something that people would find it easy to believe. There’s a lot of work expended by early Christians on trying to explain how a woman could give birth and remain physically a virgin. It would be a lot easier for a Jewish Christian (or even a Gentile one) to preach a matriarch who had twelve or more kids, because everybody knew that having lots of kids meant you were awesome and God-favored.

But perpetual virginity is what happened, so that’s what was preached.

So yeah, you could sit there and theorize about how nothing would be wrong if Mary had had other kids or had had normal marital sex with a human, just like you could sit and theorize about how Jesus could have been born a woman instead of a man. Nothing would have been wrong if Cana had just been an ordinary wedding where the wine never ran out and never got replaced by a miracle. God could just never do signs and miracles or salvation at all, and we’d never know what we were missing. We’d just die forever, in a completely normal way.

But that’s not what happened, so that’s not what’s preached.

Straight from CA’s apologists to you.:slight_smile:

*]Doesn’t Scripture imply that Mary had children other than Jesus?
*] Did Jesus have brothers?
*] Perpetual Virginity: Why is this important?
*] Mary: Ever Virgin
*] Why should any doctrine not explicitly referred to in the Bible, be listened to?
*] How can we know a doctrine is true if it’s not in the Bible?
*] How do we know that the Protoevangelium of James is credible?
*] Does Church Tradition exist only to interpret Scripture?
*] Non-Canonical Writings…
*] Oral Traditions not found in the Bible

I just went through this on the Bible and Mary series from Scott Hahn’s St. Paul Center…here is a link…

I forgot which lesson it is, but the series goes through all the Marian dogmas…and explalins this in more depth.

Take a look:

Proto-evangelium of James

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by [St. Anne], saying, ‘Anne! Anne! The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive and shall bring forth, and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.’ And Anne said, ‘As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall minister to him in the holy things all the days of its life.’ . . . And [from the time she was three] Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there” (Proto-evangelium of James 4, 7 [A.D. 120]).

“And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of priests, saying, ‘Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord?’ And they said to the high priest, ‘You stand by the altar of the Lord; go in and pray concerning her, and whatever the Lord shall manifest to you, that also will we do.’ . . . [A]nd he prayed concerning her, and behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him saying, ‘Zechariah! Zechariah! Go out and assemble the widowers of the people and let them bring each his rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. . . . And Joseph [was chosen]. . . . And the priest said to Joseph, ‘You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the Virgin of the Lord.’ But Joseph refused, saying, ‘I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl’” (ibid., 8–9).

“And Annas the scribe came to him [Joseph] . . . and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest and said to him, ‘Joseph, whom you did vouch for, has committed a grievous crime.’ And the priest said, ‘How so?’ And he said, ‘He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord and has married her by stealth’” (ibid., 15).

“And the priest said, ‘Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low and forgotten the Lord your God?’ . . . And she wept bitterly saying, ‘As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before him, and know not man’” (ibid.).


“The Book [the Proto-evangelium] of James [records] that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word . . . might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the firstfruit among men of the purity which consists in [perpetual] chastity, and Mary was among women. For it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the firstfruit of virginity” (Commentary on Matthew 2:17 [A.D. 248]).

There is no child of Mary except Jesus, according to the opinion of those who think correctly about her.” (Commentary on John 1, 4; PG 14, 32, in Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, 75.)

Hilary of Poitiers

“Indeed many depraved men give authority to their opinion that our Lord Jesus Christ was known to have brothers (and sisters). While if these were really the sons of Mary and not those of Joseph from a former marriage, never would our Lord at the time of his passion have given Mary to the apostle John to be his mother by saying to both of them, ‘Woman behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother,’ unless he were leaving the charity of a son in the disciple for the solace of his now desolate mother.” (Commentary on Matthew, in Buby, Mary of Galilee, III, 134)


“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” (Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 [A.D. 360]).

“If Mary would have had another son, the Savior would not have neglected her nor would he have confided his mother to another person, indeed she had not become the mother of another. Mary, moreover, would not have abandoned her own sons to live with another, for she fully realized a mother never abandons her spouse nor her children. And since she continued to remain a virgin even after the birth of the Lord, he gave her as mother to the disciple, even though she was not his mother; he confided her to John because of his great purity of conscience and because of her intact virginity.” (“De virginitate,” in Buby, Mary ofGalilee, III, 104)

**Epiphanius **

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things, both visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down and took flesh, that is, was born perfectly of the holy ever-virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit” (The Man Well-Anchored 120 [A.D. 374]).

“And to holy Mary, [the title] ‘Virgin’ is invariably added, for that holy woman remains undefiled” (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 78:6 [A.D. 375]).



“[Helvidius] produces Tertullian as a witness [to his view] and quotes Victorinus, bishop of Petavium. Of Tertullian, I say no more than that he did not belong to the Church. But as regards Victorinus, I assert what has already been proven from the gospel—that he [Victorinus] spoke of the brethren of the Lord not as being sons of Mary but brethren in the sense I have explained, that is to say, brethren in point of kinship, not by nature. [By discussing such things we] are . . . following the tiny streams of opinion. Might I not array against you the whole series of ancient writers? Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and many other apostolic and eloquent men, who against [the heretics] Ebion, Theodotus of Byzantium, and Valentinus, held these same views and wrote volumes replete with wisdom. If you had ever read what they wrote, you would be a wiser man” (Against Helvidius: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary 19 [A.D. 383]).

“We believe that God was born of a virgin, because we read it. We do not believe that Mary was married after she brought forth her Son, because we do not read it. . . . You [Helvidius] say that Mary did not remain a virgin. As for myself, I claim that Joseph himself was a virgin, through Mary, so that a virgin Son might be born of a virginal wedlock” (ibid., 21).

Count me as a Protestant who has no problem believing that Mary never had any other children. I debate this with my two Lutheran brothers all the time.
While it would not shake my faith if it was discovered that Mary had subsequent children after Jesus(and I don’t think that will ever be proven) I don’t believe she did.
The big reason is because Jesus gave her to John on the cross.
If Mary had had any other children, they would have been bound to take their mother in.
I argue this with my brothers and they have no answers.
Their argument “Well maybe the siblings weren’t believers” Uh, so what? And Scripture says the brothers of Jesus DID become believers later.
But they would have been faithful Jews and bound to take their mother in.
Traditions says John cared for her from then on, right?


The primary reason we believe it is “important” is because we believe it to be true. The theological significance of her virginity is secondary to our belief that is historical fact.

Also, is it really a problem if Mary and Joseph did have intercourse (not all intercourses lead to children)? If her virginity ended sometime in her life, …

…how can a Catholic defend Mary’s perpetual virginity based on Scripture and a historical sense (did the christians prior to the 300’s believe this)?

The issue with Mary loosing her virginity withing her lifetime, even in marriage, is that it contradicts her reaction at the Annunciation in the bible.

When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he hailed her as “blessed”, or “highly favored” with God. He then announced that she would bare a son, and name him “Jesus”.

Mary reacted with shock:

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34)

Why is it significant that Mary was surprised? The fact that she would have a child should not have been surprising, given that she was about to be married. If hers was to be an ordinary marriage, consummating it and having children would not be surprising.

However, many believe that Mary was a dedicated virgin, essentially a Jewish nun. She was going to live with Joseph, who would marry her and support her, but not have sex with her. Thus, when the Angel told her she would have a child, she was surprised, because she dedicated her virginity to God!

It was only after Mary expressed her surprise, and told the Angel that she did expected to
have “no relations with a man” for the rest of her life, that the Angel told her that the child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit:

And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;

for nothing will be impossible for God.”

The angel tells her that her professed perpetual virginity is no obstacle to God!

To this Mary acquiesces::

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Now, Mary could have given birth to the biological son of Joseph, and that son could have even been the Messiah. This is what the Jews believe will happen, and what Muslims believe already happened.

But it is more fitting and proper the Messiah should be true God and true Man, and thus be born of a virgin so as to be the Son of God.

Now, Mary could have gone on to live a normal life, had sex, have had multiple children to care for following the birth of God.

But it is more fitting and proper that that the women who gave birth to our Lord should devote herself entirely to Jesus, as she was Jesus’s first Human follower, the first Human on Earth to believe in her son’s divinity, and even the first human to publicly acknowledge her son as a great prophet capable of miracles.

So the Catholic belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity stems directly from scriptural clues, and ancient traditions that explained these scriptural clues. Thus we believe she is a virgin, because we believe it is historical fact. Further, though God could easily have chosen other means of conceiving our Lord and Savior, we believe that Mary as a devoted follower of her son to be the most fitting and proper means of Christ’s birth.


This is the big sign for me also… thanks for sharing… :thumbsup:

In Mark 10:8-9, Jesus says:
8"and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.
9What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."

In Luke 1:34-35, we see this exchange between Mary and the angel Gabriel:
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”
35 And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

When the angel came to Mary, she was betrothed to Joseph, but not yet married to him. When Mary said yes to God, she was joined together with the Holy Spirit to conceive Jesus. She became the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Joseph took Mary as his wife, but he did so with full knowledge that she had conceived a child by the power of the Holy Spirit. Being a righteous man, I would think he would have known that Mary truly belonged to God and he would not have had relations with her. It would seem to me, that of all the marriages in history, this is definitely one that man would “put asunder”

St. Augustine stated that “Mary was that only one who merited to be called the Mother and Spouse of God.”

In St. Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion To Mary”, he also speaks much of Mary’s espousal to the Holy Spirit. For example in Paragraph 5, he states:

"5. Mary is the supreme masterpiece of Almighty God and he has reserved the knowledge and possession of her for himself. She is the glorious Mother of God the Son who chose to humble and conceal her during her lifetime in order to foster her humility. He called her “Woman” as if she were a stranger, although in his heart he esteemed and loved her above all men and angels. Mary is the sealed fountain and the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit where only he may enter. She is the sanctuary and resting-place of the Blessed Trinity where God dwells in greater and more divine splendour than anywhere else in the universe, not excluding his dwelling above the cherubim and seraphim. No creature, however pure, may enter there without being specially privileged. "

He again describes this espousal in paragraphs 20 and 21:

"20. God the Holy Spirit, who does not produce any divine person, became fruitful through Mary whom he espoused. It was with her, in her and of her that he produced his masterpiece, God-made-man, and that he produces every day until the end of the world the members of the body of this adorable Head. For this reason the more he finds Mary his dear and inseparable spouse in a soul the more powerful and effective he becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul and that soul in Jesus Christ.

  1. This does not mean that the Blessed Virgin confers on the Holy Spirit a fruitfulness which he does not already possess. Being God, he has the ability to produce just like the Father and the Son, although he does not use this power and so does not produce another divine person. But it does mean that the Holy Spirit chose to make use of our Blessed Lady, although he had no absolute need of her, in order to become actively fruitful in producing Jesus Christ and his members in her and by her. This is a mystery of grace unknown even to many of the most learned and spiritual of Christians."

Also, is it really a problem if Mary and Joseph did have intercourse (not all intercourses lead to children)? If her virginity ended sometime in her life, prior to Joseph’s death, how does this diminish her sinless life, her title of being the Mother of God and the mother of Christians? Having intercourse is one of the main natural things of a human being so why is it so important to believe that Mary was forever a virgin?

Kindly visit my website for answers to your questions.



Mary is the spouse of the Holy Spirit by whom she conceived a son.

For Mary to have had sexual relations with a man while also being the spouse of the Holy Spirit would make her an adulterer.

That would make Jesus both the Son of God and the son of an adulterer. This is not possible.


Exactly. The Marian Dogmas were not just declarations to make Mary seem more perfect, but to point towards the perfection of our Lord. The purity of our Lady serves to magnify our comprehension of the perfect and divine nature of Jesus.

I guess to me I have to ask why it is such a hard concept to accept. There are people that remain virgins all their life even in this day and age who may or may not be religious.

I know that there are those who fight against it because it is “Catholic”, but that is to ignore my first statement.

That is not quite true. Scripture tells us that she was the lawful spouse of Joseph. The Holy Spirit is Divine and is thus not bound by human nature. Thus the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life, could give Jesus a human nature through Mary, without committing adultery against Joseph. This was the message that the Angel gave Joseph, that she had been faithful; that the Child was begotten by God!

The bible also says he had sisters…

I don’t recall the bible saying Joseph was married before Mary.
From what reliable source are you getting this information?

I think this doctrine was developed over time and there wasn’t a consensus about this until the 4th Century or so.
Early “church father” Tertullian (c.160 – c.225) did not teach or believe the doctrine of perpetual virginity.
Neither did Helvidius and Eunomius of Cyzicus, writers from the 4th Century.


First of all, Joseph was the lawful spouse of Mary, but the couple had not yet formally solemnized their marriage when she conceived Jesus, at which time the husband could lawfully take his wife into his home. In Judaism, the marriage ceremony consists of two parts: Kiddushin and Nisuin. Mary conceived Jesus soon before the first part of the marriage ceremony would come to an end after a year and the nisuin take place. I think it’s important for us to note that the Holy Spirit didn’t overshadow Mary after the marriage was solemnly formalised and could be consummated. Above in this thread, I provided a link to my website regarding this matter. You’re invited to read my article.

Second, the Holy Spirit did not make physical contact with Mary, but she was physically passive and affected when she was overshadowed. And, of course, the Holy Spirit is a Person, albeit His divinity. According to the Mosaic law, a husband was forbidden to be visited by his wife if she had had physical relations with another man, especially if she had conceived a child by him. That man would be a person, too, wouldn’t he?. There are moral implications here in light of the Divine law which should be taken into strong consideration.

The truth is that the relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit was redolent of a marriage, no less than the relationship between Israel and YHWH was in a spiritual and moral sense. The marriage between God and Mary was consummated when she conceived Jesus, as should be within holy wedlock. This explains why the angel told Joseph that he may take his legal wife Mary into his home, but not cohabit with her in the normal way: “paralambano gunaika”. So he should have nothing to fear from God. By the way, we read: “the power of the Most High shall overshadow you.” The Hebrew word for “power” is resuth, which is a euphemism for conjugal relations in marriage. Mary was under the power or authority of her husband as much as Eve was in her marriage with Adam. She could only have a desire for her husband and conceive children by him since they are one flesh in holy marriage. (Gen.3:16). The Hebrew word for overshadow (להאפיל) is also a euphemism for marital relations.



Marriage can only occur between individuals sharing a human nature. The Holy Spirit is a Person, but with a Divine Nature. Marriage is not in His nature, although it is a useful metaphor to describe the unique blessings and status of Mary.

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