July 15-17, 2004
vol 15, no. 159

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Defending Against Blasphemies:
Mary: Ever-Virgin

      Against the Blasphemy of Mary's Perpetual Virginity

    "Most recently, this heresy popped up again in the years following the Protestant Revolution. Although the "fathers" of this Revolution (including Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingle) held that Mary remained ever-virgin, somehow they failed to pass on this teaching to successive generations. Today, it is very difficult indeed to find a Protestant who affirms what even his theological forefathers held as divinely revealed Truth."

      Editor's Note: Apologist Jacob Michael presents a succinct Marian essay on the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This article appeared in this month's issue of Catholic Family News and we publish it here with the kind permission of John Vennari. This time of year when we celebrate Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is an ideal time for these words which are reinforced in the holy Scriptures and coincide so well with his column Quid Dicit Scriptura? - What Saith the Scriptures? He utilizes the approved and superior Douay-Rheims Roman Catholic version in his apologia and holds to the Council of Trent's decree to "accept Sacred Scripture according to the meaning which has been held by Holy Mother Church and which She now holds. It is Her prerogative to pass judgment on the true meaning and interpretation of Sacred Scripture and will not accept or interpret it in a manner different from the unanimous agreement of the Fathers."

    On May 30, 1930, Sr. Lucy asked Our Lord why the number of "First Saturdays" was fixed at five consecutive Saturdays, instead of some other number, such as seven or nine. Our Lord answered Sr. Lucy that the devotion was fixed at five Saturdays in order to make reparation against five specific blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary:

  • blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception;
  • blasphemies against Mary's perpetual virginity;
  • blasphemies against her divine and universal maternity;
  • blasphemies of those who turn the hearts of children against Mary; and
  • blasphemies acted out against her holy images.

    It is my intention, over the next few months, to address and defend the Truth against all five of these blasphemies, and in so doing, to make some small reparation to Our Lady.

    We begin this month by addressing the dogma of Mary's perpetual virginity. The error that counters this Truth, of course, is the opinion that Mary did have other biological children through the normal means of marital relations with St. Joseph, after Our Lord was born. This error reared its ugly head in a most prominent way through the writings of Helvidius in the 5th century, and it was the privilege of St. Jerome to forcefully refute those errors.

    Most recently, this heresy popped up again in the years following the Protestant Revolution. Although the "fathers" of this Revolution (including Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingle) held that Mary remained ever-virgin, somehow they failed to pass on this teaching to successive generations. Today, it is very difficult indeed to find a Protestant who affirms what even his theological forefathers held as divinely revealed Truth.

    What are their objections to this dogma, then, and how shall we answer them? History will be of little use to us here, for although we can bring forward mountains of evidence that all of the Christians in the early Church believed Mary was ever-virgin, Protestants seem to be barely concerned with whether their beliefs are rooted in the historical Church. Indeed, if they cared at all to remain rooted in history, the testimony of the original Protestants would be enough to convince them.

    Thus, we must answer them from Scripture alone. The trouble is this: Scripture does not explicitly affirm Mary's perpetual virginity. There is no verse that says plainly, "Mary had no other children after the birth of Jesus." This fact, coupled with the fact that we are claiming a universal negative (i.e., Mary had no other children), means that it falls to the Protestant to shoulder the burden of proof. He must demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, the Mary did have other children. This he attempts to do, by pointing to such verses as these:

    "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude; and his sisters, are they not all with us?" (Matt. 13:55-56).

    "And [Joseph] knew [Mary] not till she brought forth her first-born son: and he called His name Jesus" (Matt. 1:25).

    "And she brought forth her first born son and wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger" (Luke 2:7).

"There you are," says the Protestant, "the bible refutes the Roman Catholic error!" The first passage seems clear: Our Lord had brothers and sisters. The second passage seems to indicate that St. Joseph and Our Lady had no relations "till" the birth of Our Lord - which would imply that after His birth, His parents conducted themselves in the manner of a normal married couple. The last passage refers to Our Lord as the "first born," and this - it is argued - implies that there was a "second born," a "third born," and so on. We will address these in reverse order.

    It is true that Our Lord was the "first born." We affirm that. What we deny is the faulty logic that follows this argument. My daughter was born in 2002, but it was not until April of this year that my son was born (and a beautiful boy he is indeed). Does it make sense to say that my daughter was not the "first born" until last April? Or rather, was she the "first born" because she was the first to "open" the womb of my wife? Suppose my son had not been born; suppose, through some tragedy, my wife was rendered infertile after my daughter's birth. Would it follow logically that my daughter must never be called a "first born," since there would be no "second born" to follow her?

    From this we turn to a question of grammar. In Matt. 1:25 (cited above), it is said that St. Joseph "knew her not" - that is, had no marital relations with Our Lady - "till" Our Lord was born. What does this preposition indicate? It can mean that there was a change that took place after the event in question, but does it necessarily mean this in all cases? For example, if I said "I ate no meat last Friday till the stroke of midnight," I would be indicating, in all likelihood, that I broke my fast at midnight. Or did I? Perhaps when midnight came, I simply climbed into bed and went to sleep.

    What am I really saying in that statement? It would depend on what I was trying to communicate, wouldn't it? If I was trying to emphasize that I abstained from meat all day on Friday, then it would be wrong of you to assume that I was saying anything about what I did after Friday had ended. Such was not my point; I was only indicating that I obeyed the Church's abstinence laws.

    This is precisely the nature of St. Matthew's statement above. What is he really trying to tell his readers? Is he hoping to indicate to them that St. Joseph and Our Lady lived as a normal married couple? Of course not. He is emphasizing one thing, and one thing only: that Our Lord's conception and birth was miraculous, and could not in any way be attributed to normal marital relations. Even the Protestant fathers agreed that to try and make this passage in any way appear concerned with what happened after Our Lord's birth was to read too much into the text.

    We may also consider that this preposition, "till" (or "until"), is used elsewhere in Scripture in such a way that there is no change indicated whatsoever. Consider:

    "The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool" (Ps. 109[110]:1).

    "Therefore Michol the daughter of Saul had no child to [Gk: "until"] the day of her death" (2 Kgs. 6:23).

    "That thou mayst give him rest from the evil days: till a pit be dug for the wicked" (Ps. 93[94]:13).

    "When I had a little passed by them, I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go, till I bring him into my mother's house" (Cant. 3:4).

    In each of these cases we see the word "till" used in a way that indicates a continuation of the sentence's verb: Our Lord will not cease to sit at God's right hand after His enemies are made a footstool; Michol did not have children after the day of her death; the Psalmist is not saying that the righteous man's "rest" will end after a pit is dug for the wicked; and the Beloved is not at all indicating that she will "let go" of her Lover after she brings him "into my mother's house."

    Finally, then, we come to the last objection: the Scriptures' explicit statement that Our Lord had "brothers" and "sisters." We may disassemble this argument in a generic way first, and then more specificaly. Generically, we can point to two texts that show how the words "brother" and "sister" do not always denote a literal blood-relationship:

    "Abram therefore said to Lot: Let there be no quarrel ... between me and thee ... for we are brethren" (Gen. 13:8).

    "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother and His mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen" (John 19:25).

In the first passage, two men are called "brethren" who are not blood-brothers at all; rather, Gen. 11:26-27 says that Abram was Lot's uncle. In the second passage, notice that Our Lady's "sister" is named as "Mary of Cleophas." Does that not strike you as odd? Our Lady, whose name is Mary, had a blood-sister who was also named "Mary?" Parents do not often give the same name to two of their children (cultural anomalies such as Michael Jackson and George Foreman notwithstanding)! Rather, although "Mary of Cleophas" is called the "sister" of Our Lady, in reality she is a cousin or a near-relative of Our Lady. While we're here in John 19, let me point out something else: this is where Our Lord entrusts Our Lady to St. John. If Our Lord had blood brothers, it would have been their religious duty to care for Our Lady, their mother, and Our Lord would have violated the holy law by entrusting her to a non-family member. This is another indication that Mary had no other children.

    Let us conclude by answering this objection specifically. In Matt. 13:55 (cited above) we are given the names of Our Lord's supposed "brothers": "James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude." Three of these men are named again in Acts 1:13, with a few additional details: "James of Alpheus and Simon Zelotes and Jude the brother of James." Whoever this "James" is, he is the son of "Alpheus," and not St. Joseph. Who is this "Alphaeus?" A good concordance will tell you: he is none other than the same "Cleophas" who is named as the husband of "Mary" in John 19:25 above.

    Acts 1:13 also tells us that this "Jude" is "the brother of James." It would appear, then, that James and Jude are the sons of Mary and Cleophas, and this Mary is the "sister" (or near-relative) of Our Lady. That would make her sons, James and Jude, the near-relatives (or "brothers") of Jesus. Additionally, Simon is called "Simon Zelotes" in Acts 1:13, that is, "Simon the Zealot." We will compare two more texts, then, and end our research.

    Mark 3:18 lists these same men together again: "James of Alpheus, and Thaddeus and Simon the Cananean." The same occurs in Matt. 10:3-4: "James the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean." Notice how these men keep getting listed together? James is the son of Alpheus/Cleophas, Thaddeus (as we know from tradition) is "Jude Thaddeus," and Simon the Zealot is also known as "Simon the Cananean." If Simon is the "Cananean," that is, from "Cana," however, then he is certainly no blood-brother of Jesus, Who was from Nazareth. We know from John 2 that Our Lord and Our Lady attended a wedding in Cana, Simon's hometown; if our thesis is correct, that Simon is a near-relative of Our Lord, this makes perfect sense. Our Lord was most likely attending the wedding of some cousin or near-relative.

    All of this data is certainly sufficient to cast reasonable doubt on the Protestant claim that Mary had other children. Given that the burden of proof falls squarely on their shoulders to support their claims with irrefutable evidence, we can safely say that they have little more than their own opinions to stand upon when attacking the testimony of 2,000 years of Catholic history and Tradition.

    Our Lady, Ever-Virgin, pray for us.

Addendum: The Protestant Fathers on the Perpetual Virginity

    "It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a Virgin." (Martin Luther, Martin Luther's Works [Weimar], English translation [Pelikan, ed.], Concordia: St. Louis; volume 11, p. 319-320)

    "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." (Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 424)

    "The inference [Helvidius] drew from [Matt. 1:25] was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words what took place afterwards the historian does not inform us no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation."(Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke, sec. 39 (Geneva, 1562), vol. 1; from Calvin's Commentaries, William Pringle [translator], Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949, p. 107)

Jacob Michael

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July 15-17, 2004

vol 15, no. 159
Quid Dicit Scriptura? - What Saith the Scriptures?