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“Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, facing the east; but it was closed. He said to me: ‘This gate is to remain closed; it is not to be opened for anyone to enter by it; since the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it, it shall remain closed'” (Ezekiel 44)… Who is this gate, if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when he was brought forth in the virginal birth, and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity (quando virginali fusus est partu, et genitalia virginitatis claustra non solvit)…. There is a gate of the womb, although it is not always closed; indeed only one was able to remain closed, that through which the One born of the Virgin came forth without the loss of genital intactness (per quam sine dispendio claustrorum genitalium virginis partus exivit).

– St. Ambrose, De institutione virginum.

It has been the Church’s consistent Tradition that Our Lady gave birth to Jesus in a “miraculous manner,” in full understanding of the dogmatic teaching that Mary was virginal before, during and after the birth of Jesus Christ (Pope Martin I, First Lateran Council, 649). Mary’s virginity during the birth (virginitas in partu) has been explained by the Fathers of the Church with the following analogy: As light passes through glass without harming the glass, so too Jesus passed through the womb of Mary in a miraculous manner without any harm to Mary’s physical virginity.

The miraculous birth of Jesus was the near unanimous teaching of the Fathers, and was specifically defended by St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, Pope St. Leo the Great, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as the medieval theological tradition. The Magisterium of the Church also refers to the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 1943, and Lumen Gentium 57) acknowledging that the birth of Our Lord “did not diminish Mary’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” This is also confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499.

Without question the miraculous birth of Jesus represents the Traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, as well as the only proper and logical understanding of the dogmatic definition of Mary’s virginity during the birth of Christ. Moreover, it follows that Mary would give birth to Jesus without the pains of labor, since pain in giving birth was a punishment due to sin, a punishment and effect from which Mary was preserved in virtue of her Immaculate Conception. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, as well as St. Augustine, St. Thomas and theological tradition, likewise confirm Mary’s giving birth to Jesus without pain.

These truths are also verified in the mystical tradition of the Church. We here present the combined mystical accounts of St. Elizabeth of Schoenau, St. Bridget of Sweden, Bl. Mother Agreda, and Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich on the mystical birth of Jesus Christ. – Ed.

 

After reciting some prayers together with Mary, St. Joseph filled the manger with straw and moss and placed a cloth over it. Then he withdrew to the entrance of the cave. Looking back, he saw the holy Mother of God praying on her knees, surrounded by flames of dazzling supernatural light. Filled with reverent fear, he threw himself down on the ground and was soon rapt in an ecstatic sleep.

Mary was kneeling, with her eyes raised to Heaven and her hands joined on her breast. Her countenance emitted rays of light, like the sun incarnadined, and shone in indescribable earnestness and majesty, all inflamed with burning love of God. Her body became so spiritualized with the beauty of Heaven that she seemed no more a human and earthly creature.

Toward midnight a channel of brilliant light came down from the highest heaven and terminated in sparkling fire at the Blessed Virgin. In it was an extraordinary movement of celestial glories which took on the forms of choirs of angels.

Then, in the twinkling of an eye, the infant God was born, glorious and transfigured as on Mount Tabor.

There the God-Man lay, naked, utterly clean and pure. And from Him radiated such marvelous light and splendor that the sun could not be compared to it. The angels could be heard gently singing canticles of wonderful sweetness.

When the holy Mother of God perceived that she had been delivered—for her child came forth without any pain or injury to her—she immediately bowed her head, placed a cloth over His tiny body, and adored Him with the greatest respect and reverence, saying:

“Welcome, my God, and my Lord, and my Son!”

Then the divine Child suspended the effects of His transfiguration and assumed the appearance of one capable of suffering. The Babe now moved, shivered with cold, and stretching forth His little arms, cried out.

Bending down, Mary tenderly clasped Him to her heart and with great joy warmed Him against her cheek and breast, while thousands of angels knelt and adored their incarnate Creator.

Nearly an hour after the birth, Mary called St. Joseph. Awakening and coming near, he perceived his Savior in her arms and at once prostrated himself on the ground with the deepest devotion and humility. Only at her bidding did he rise. And with touching joy and gratitude he kissed the Babe’s feet, and held the little Jesus in his arms, pressing Him to his heart, while tears of happiness moistened his cheeks.

Then, sitting on the ground, Mary laid her Son in her lap, and while St. Joseph handed her the linens, she began carefully and lovingly to wrap the divine Child in swaddling clothes, drawing them tight on His small body.

Next she and Joseph gently placed the Infant in the manger.

At this point an ox from the neighboring fields entered the cave with the ass. They both approached the crib, knelt down before it, and breathed over it, as if to warm the Baby.

Mary and Joseph were so affected by this act that they could not restrain their tears.

For a long time they remained on their knees beside the crib, adoring the Christ Child and praising and thanking God. Later St. Joseph took some blankets and made a resting place for Mary beside the manger.

The Adoration of the Shepherds

At the Holy Hour of the Nativity of the Savior, an extraordinary wave of rejoicing was manifest in Nature in many parts of the world. Many animals leaped with exultation. Flowers raised their faded stems. Plants and trees took on new life and gave forth sweet scents. A number of new springs flowed abundantly.

The thrilling and consoling news of the birth of the Messiah was immediately announced by the holy angels to a small number of chosen souls. The Archangel Michael brought it to the patriarchs and prophets in Limbo, as well as to St. Ann and St. Joachim, and they all rejoiced together. Another angel informed St. Elizabeth and her baby St. John, who clearly expressed his joy by waving his little arms. His mother at once sent one of her servants to Bethlehem with some money and linen for Mary. The mystery of the Savior’s birth was revealed to the holy old priest Simeon and to Anna, Mary’s former teacher, in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Orient each of the three Magi was enlightened by angels concerning the Incarnation of the Redeemer of mankind, which they had long expected, and perceiving the mystic star, they set out on their pilgrimage to the Crib of the newborn King of kings. All good men everywhere felt a new supernatural joy at this time, and many of them believed that the Savior had at last come into the world.

But of all the human race those who merited to be the first to see the Christ Child were the poor, humble, and devout shepherds of Bethlehem. During this holy night, three of their leaders, while watching over their flocks in the fields about a mile from the grotto of the Nativity, noticed with amazement a strange, luminous cloud hovering above the hill in which the cave and manger were located. And as they were staring up at the sky, all of a sudden a bright light came down toward them, bathing them in its celestial radiance. Then within the light they perceived the splendid Archangel Gabriel in human form, and at first these simple men were filled with intense fear, until Gabriel said to them reassuringly:

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. For there has been born to you today in the town of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

While he was speaking, the radiance around him became still brighter, revealing seven other great angels of extraordinary beauty and then a whole multitude of the heavenly host, all praising God and chanting in sweet harmony, to a soft and joyful melody:

“Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth Peace to Men of Good Will!”

After singing this lovely canticle, the angels went to two other groups of shepherds at some distance and brought them the same wonderful news. And these good men said to one another eagerly:

“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us!”

But first they thoughtfully set about collecting suitable presents.

Only toward dawn did they find the grotto-stable and knock timidly at its entrance. St. Joseph very obligingly opened the door and welcomed them. They told him what the angels had announced to them during the night, and they said that they had come to offer their gifts and veneration to the divine Child. At the same time they gave St. Joseph a number of young goats and chickens, which he accepted with humble gratitude and placed in a side room off the stable.

Then he led the shepherds into the grotto, where the Blessed Mother of God was sitting on the ground beside the crib in which the beautiful Babe of Bethlehem was lying. And as they gazed down at the tiny Jesus, He looked up at them, and from His radiant little face and eyes a mystical current of divine love streamed forth and touched the sincere hearts of those poor but fortunate men, changing and renewing them spiritually and filling them with a new grace and understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation and of the Redemption. “And when they had seen, they understood what had been told them concerning this Child.” Still holding their shepherd’s staffs in their hands, they very humbly knelt down before the Infant Jesus and prostrated themselves on the ground, weeping tears of joy as they adored their God. For a long time they were so deeply moved with supernatural happiness that they could not say a word. Finally they began to sing together the words and melody which the angel had taught them.

Meanwhile the lovely Mother of God modestly observed all that they did and felt, for she also saw into their inmost hearts. And when they had finished singing their beautiful hymn, she spoke to them, urging them to persevere in the love and service of the Lord. They stayed in the cave from dawn until noon, when Mary graciously gave them something to eat. As they were about to leave, she allowed each of them in turn to hold the divine Babe for a moment, and each one, as he reverently gave the Child back to her, wept tears of sweet joy and gratitude. Then they left, filled with heavenly consolation and understanding, “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken to them.”

“But Mary kept in mind all these words, pondering them in her heart.”

“And all who heard marveled at the things, told them by the shepherds.” The following day the latter returned with their wives and children, bringing gifts of eggs and honey and cloth. The men helped St. Joseph to make the grotto somewhat more habitable, and some devout women who had known him as a boy in Bethlehem brought firewood and did some cooking and washing for the Holy Family.

Once during these happy days after the Nativity, while Mary and Joseph were alone, absorbed in contemplating the Christ Child, their donkey came into the stable and suddenly knelt down on its forelegs and bowed its head to the ground before the Babe in the crib.

Most of the time the loving Mother of God held her divine Son in her arms. Whenever she took Him up, she first made three genuflections and humbly kissed the ground before kneeling at the crib and touching the tiny Jesus. And when she thought that she should nurse Him, she first asked His permission. All her angels remained present and visible to her until the Flight into Egypt, and on rare occasions she gave her Baby into the hands of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael. She would not sleep except when the Lord Himself commanded her to do so. With her angels and with St. Joseph, she often composed and sang beautiful hymns in honor of the holy Child. And she often gave her good husband the intense pleasure of hearing her refer to Jesus as “our Son.”

Many times in caressing her beloved Son, she humbly kissed His feet, and she always asked His consent before kissing His sacred face. And often He returned her affection by putting His little arms around her neck.

At such times Mary said to Him:

“O my Love, sweet Life of my soul, who art Thou, and who am I? What return shall I make for the great things which Thou hast done to me?”

Speaking of the Nativity the Mother of God Said to St. Bridget of Sweden:

“And when I gave birth to Him, I brought Him forth without pain, just as I had also conceived Him with such great joy of soul and body that in my rapture my feet did not feel the ground on which they were standing. And as He had filled my soul with happiness on entering my body, so did He again come forth in such a way that my whole body and soul exulted with indescribable joy and in such a way that my virginity was not impaired.

How overwhelmed I was when I perceived and gazed at His beauty, and when I realized that I was not worthy of such a Son. And then, too, when I looked at the places where the nails would be driven into His hands and feet, how my eyes filled with tears and how my heart was torn with grief. And when my Son saw the tears in my eyes, He was sad unto death.

But then, when I contemplated the power of His Divinity, I regained confidence, for I knew that it was His will and that it would be for the good, and I made my whole will conform to His.

Thus my happiness was ever mixed with sorrow.”

And to Bl. Mother Mary of Agreda She Said:

“Who would be so hardened as not to be moved to tenderness at the sight of their God become man, humiliated in poverty, despised, unknown, entering the world in a cave, lying on a manger surrounded by brute animals, protected only by a poverty-stricken Mother, and cast off by the foolish arrogance of the world? Who will dare to love the vanity and pride which was openly scorned and condemned by the Creator of Heaven and earth in His actions? No one should despise the humility, poverty and indigence which the Lord loved and chose for Himself as the very means of teaching the Way of Eternal Life. Few there are who stop to consider this truth and this example, and as a result of this rank ingratitude only the few reap the fruit of these great mysteries.”

 

The late Raphael Brown was a well known author and secular Franciscan who wrote and translated many Catholic and Franciscan Works. The above article is an excerpt from his book, The Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics, Tan, 1991.

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In her interesting article “Reproductive Science and the Incarnation” (Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 4, Fall 2002, 11-25) Dr. Catherine Brown Tkacz offers a number of interesting correlations between the discoveries of reproductive science and the Church’s belief in the mystery of the Incarnation. Just as the Holy Spirit has continued to bring forth deeper insights into the meaning of this mystery (cf. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, #8), so also the data of biological science, evaluated in the light of Scripture and Tradition, can help us to marvel at the inexhaustible richness of the mystery. The point is, of course, that the mystery can never be simply explained either by theology or by modern science. At the end of her essay Dr. Tkacz appropriately comments that “the mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation remains ineluctable and eternal” (p. 22).

Without taking away from the valuable insights which her article provides, I would nonetheless take issue with Dr. Tkacz’s treatment of Mary’s virginity in giving birth to Christ (commonly referred to as the virginitas in partu) on p. 21 and in endnotes #76 and #78 on p. 25. It must be admitted that the datum of the faith that Mary gave birth as a virgin, unfortunately, receives virtually no attention in contemporary catechesis or preaching.

Indeed, who can remember having heard of the “virgin birth” of Jesus, and not of his “virginal conception” or of his Mother’s “life-long virginity,” in a homily in the last forty years?

[...]

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We present this account of the birth of Our Lord, followed by a commentary on the account by Our Lady herself, from The Poem of the Man-God. The Poem of the Man-God remains a legitimate mystical/spiritual source for Christian meditation regarding the life of Jesus as recorded by the Italian mystic, Maria Valtorta (see article, In Response to Various Questions Regarding “The Poem of the Man-God” in the Marian Private Revelation section). – Ed.

6th June 1944

I still see the inside of the poor stony shelter, where Mary and Joseph have found refuge, sharing the lot of some animals.

The little fire is dozing together with its guardian. Mary lifts Her head slowly from Her bed and looks round. She sees that Joseph’s head is bowed over his chest, as if he were meditating, and She thinks that his good intention to remain awake has been overcome by tiredness. She smiles lovingly and making less noise than a but­terfly alighting on a rose, She sits up and then goes on Her knees. She prays with a blissful smile on Her face. She prays with Her arms stretched out, almost in the shape of a cross, with the palms of Her hands facing up and forward, and She never seems to tire in that position. She then prostrates Herself with Her face on the hay, in an even more ardent prayer. A long prayer.

 

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In her interesting article “Reproductive Science and the Incarnation” (Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 4, Fall 2002, 11-25) Dr. Catherine Brown Tkacz offers a number of interesting correlations between the discoveries of reproductive science and the Church’s belief in the mystery of the Incarnation. Just as the Holy Spirit has continued to bring forth deeper insights into the meaning of this mystery (cf. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, #8), so also the data of biological science, evaluated in the light of Scripture and Tradition, can help us to marvel at the inexhaustible richness of the mystery. The point is, of course, that the mystery can never be simply explained either by theology or by modern science. At the end of her essay Dr. Tkacz appropriately comments that “the mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation remains ineluctable and eternal” (p. 22).

Without taking away from the valuable insights which her article provides, I would nonetheless take issue with Dr. Tkacz’s treatment of Mary’s virginity in giving birth to Christ (commonly referred to as the virginitas in partu) on p. 21 and in endnotes #76 and #78 on p. 25. It must be admitted that the datum of the faith that Mary gave birth as a virgin, unfortunately, receives virtually no attention in contemporary catechesis or preaching.

Indeed, who can remember having heard of the “virgin birth” of Jesus, and not of his “virginal conception” or of his Mother’s “life-long virginity,” in a homily in the last forty years?

I. Datum of the Tradition

The fact is that the mystery of Mary’s virginity in giving birth to the Savior was preached and taught consistently by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. One finds beautiful expositions of it in the homilies and catecheses of St. Gregory of Nyssa (+ c. 394), (1) St. Ambrose (+ 397), (2) St. John Chrysostom (+ 407), (3) St. Proclus of Constantinople (+ 446), (4) Theodotus of Ancyra (+ before 446), (5) St. Peter Chrysologus (+ 450), (6) Pope St. Leo the Great (+ 461), (7) Severus of Antioch (+ 538), (8) St. Romanos the Melodist (+ c. 560), (9) St. Venantius Fortunatus (+ c. 600), (10) and Pope St. Gregory the Great (+ 604) (11).

This preaching and teaching was not a mere matter of pious fantasizing, but rather it was a careful “handing on” of what had been received. The miraculous birth of Jesus in time was seen as a reflection of the mystery of his eternal generation by the Father. (12) As with all of the most important data which touched on the person of the Son of God, it became progressively clarified by the magisterium. Already during the pontificate of Pope St. Siricius (384-399) this matter was dealt with in the Plenary Council of Capua (392) and in the Synods of Rome and Milan in 393 (13) with St. Ambrose’s teaching on Mary’s “incorruption” in giving birth emerging as authoritative. (14)

In his De institutione virginum St. Ambrose introduced this mystery by quoting the beginning of the forty-fourth chapter of Ezekiel:

“Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, facing the east; but it was closed. He said to me: ‘This gate is to remain closed; it is not to be opened for anyone to enter by it; since the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it, it shall remain closed.'” … Who is this gate, if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when he was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity (quando virginali fusus est partu, et genitalia virginitatis claustra non solvit). (15) … There is a gate of the womb, although it is not always closed; indeed only one was able to remain closed, that through which the One born of the Virgin came forth without the loss of genital intactness (per quam sine dispendio claustrorum genitalium virginis partus exivit). (16)

St. Ambrose’ defense of the “virgin birth,” especially in this treatise, is so definitive that those who have subsequently sought to “re-interpret” the doctrine in the light of the criticism of Dr. Albert Mitterer (17) have found it necessary to take him on. (18)

II. The Magisterium

In 649 the Roman Synod which convened at the Lateran, whose teaching was approved as authoritative by Pope St. Martin I, anathematized anyone who would deny that Mary “gave birth to (God the Word) without corruption.” (19) In his Constitution Cum quorumdam hominum condemning the errors of Unitarianism Pope Paul IV admonished all those who deny that the Blessed Virgin Mary “did not retain her virginity intact before the birth, in the birth, and perpetually after the birth.” (20) The Roman Catechism also known as The Catechism of the Council of Trent followed suit with this clear teaching:

For in a way wonderful beyond expression or conception, he is born of his Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity. As he afterwards went forth from the sepulcher while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which his disciples were assembled, although “the doors were closed” (Jn. 20:19), or, not to depart from natural events which we witness every day, as the rays of the sun penetrate the substance of glass without breaking or injuring it in the least: so, but in a more incomprehensible manner, did Jesus Christ come forth from his mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity. …

To Eve it was said: “In pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate, she brought forth Jesus the Son of God, without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain. (21)

The Second Vatican Council presented this mystery succinctly by speaking of “the birth of Our Lord, who did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it” (22) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats that statement after clarifying that

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. (23)

Those who would say that these recent professions of the mystery are minimal and non-binding need only examine the footnotes appended to each of them to discover that they are based on previous major declarations of the magisterium which have been considered definitive since the Patristic era. The text of Lumen Gentium cites the Lateran Synod of 649, the Tome of St. Leo the Great to Flavian (24) and the De institutione virginum of St. Ambrose. The Catechism gives two citations to the Tome to Flavian, (25) as well as citing the Second Council of Constantinople, (26) the Letter of Pope Pelagius I to Childebertus, (27) the Lateran Synod of 649, the Profession of Faith of the Synod of Toledo of 693 (28) and Pope Paul IV’s Constitution Cum quorumdam hominum.

III. Dr. Tkacz’ Comments

A. The Miraculous Nature of Christ’s Birth

Now back to Dr. Tkacz. She states that:

He (Christ) chose to traverse the birth canal. … He passed through her (Mary’s) cervix. Its strength had kept him securely in the uterus throughout gestation and now it widened to deliver him to wider life. He passed through the vagina, the organ with which every wife knows her husband. Jesus emerged through the labia, the vulva (21).

The good doctor reports as if she were an eye-witness, precisely on the assumption that there was nothing miraculous in the birth process of the Son of God. On the other hand Father Peter Damian Fehlner makes this very trenchant comment:

But on this question, viz. whether the virginity of our Lady in childbirth involves miraculous elements distinct from the virginal conception, there is an even more basic consideration. The Church has always insisted on this, antecedently to any theological reflection on the point. Belief precedes analysis; indeed sets very severe limits on our intellectual curiosity about the details of this singular birth. (29)

In this he is in fact echoing a major address which Pope John Paul II gave on 24 May, 1992, in Capua where he had gone to address a Mariological Congress organized to commemorate the 16th Centenary of the Plenary Council of Capua which had dealt specifically with Mary’s virginity in childbirth. On that occasion the Pope stated:

The theologian must approach the mystery of Mary’s fruitful virginity with a deep sense of veneration for God’s free, holy and sovereign action. …

The theologian, however, who approaches the mystery of Mary’s virginity with a heart full of faith and adoring respect, does not thereby forego the duty of studying the data of Revelation and showing their harmony and interrelationship; rather, following the Spirit, … he puts himself in the great and fruitful theological tradition of fides quærens intellectum.

When theological reflection becomes a moment of doxology and latria, the mystery of Mary’s virginity is disclosed, allowing one to catch a glimpse of other aspects and other depths. (30)

B. The Patristic Testimony

In Dr. Tkacz’ endnote #76 she rather lightly dismisses an article by Father Stanley Jaki on the virgin birth because he does not cite any Patristic texts in making his case. She opines that the miraculous nature of the birth of Christ “seems to me essentially modern, based on a pietistic thought that to honor Jesus one must dissociate him from human birth, as if birth were indecent” (p. 25). I trust that by now the reader will recognize that this doctrine is clearly taught by the Fathers (for reasons of space we must forego discussion of the Scriptural bases of the doctrine). Further, the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth is not an indictment of human birth as being “indecent,” but rather fully congruent with the saving purposes of the Incarnation. As Pope St. Leo the Great preached:

The Lord Jesus Christ came to take away our maladies, not to contract them; to bring a remedy to our vices, not to succumb to them. … That is why it was necessary for Him to be born in new conditions (propter quod oportuit ut novo nasceretur ordine). … It was necessary that the integrity of the One being born preserve the pristine virginity of the one who gave birth. (31)

John Saward’s excellent study, Cradle of Redeeming Love, provides several illuminating pages on the fittingness of the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth. (32)

C. The Seal of Virginity

In endnote #78 Dr. Tkacz states “Legend attributes an intact hymen to the Theotokos” and then goes on to quote from Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary that the “rupture or absence (of the hymen) is not evidence of loss of virginity.” While a certain sense of delicacy, inspired by the 1960 Monitum of the Holy Office of 1960, (33) makes me hesitate a moment before taking issue with this statement, it needs to be dealt with. On this matter the late Father Juniper Carol, O.F.M. summarized quite clearly how the approach of the Fathers and the magisterium had come to be understood:

At the appropriate time, Our Blessed Lord left the womb of His Mother through the natural channels but in a miraculous way, that is, without in any manner opening any part of Mary’s body. In other words, there was no dilatation of the normal passage, no opening of the vagina, no breaking of the virginal hymen. (34)

In less specific biological language the Holy Father treated this issue in his discourse at Capua in 1992. He stated:

It is a well-known fact that some Church Fathers set up a significant parallel between the begetting of Christ ex intacta Virgine
(from the untouched Virgin) and his resurrection ex intacto sepulcro (from the intact sepulchre). 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. (35)

With regard to Dr. Tkacz’ specific insistence, John Saward provides clarification from the Angelic Doctor:

St. Thomas says that the hymen pertains to virginity only per accidens, and that its rupture by any means other than sexual pleasure is no more destructive of virginity than the loss of a hand or foot (cf. ST 2a2æ q. 152, a. I, ad 3). However, he also holds that bodily integrity belongs to the perfection of virginity (see Quæstiones quodlibetales 6, q. 10, prol). (36)

Could we expect that God would do less for His Virgin Mother?

IV. Virginity of Flesh—Virginity of Heart

What does this doctrine mean? It certainly shouldn’t be taken in any way as lessening “the value and dignity of marriage” (37) asserts the Holy Father. Rather, he insists, it should be seen as pointing to the fact that the bodily integrity of Mary is a physical sign of her total spiritual virginity, that the virginity of her flesh is an indication of the virginity of her heart:

Therefore, she fulfils in herself the ideal of perfect adherence to God’s plan, without compromise and without the defilement of falsehood or pride; the ideal of faithful fulfillment of the covenant, the violation of which on the part of Israel is compared to adultery by the prophets; the ideal of sincere acceptance of the Gospel message, in which the single-hearted are called blest (cf. (cf. Mt. 5:8) and virginity for the kingdom is extolled (cf. Mt. 19:12); the ideal of rightly understanding the mystery of Christ—the Truth par excellence (cf. Jn. 14:6)—and his doctrine, because of which the Church is also called a virgin since she preserves the deposit of faith whole and incorrupt. (38)

While remaining a mystery, the Virgin Birth is also a sign. It points back to the mystery of the eternal generation of the Son in the bosom of the Father and forward to the mystery of his Resurrection. It is a datum which it is beyond the capacity of science to explain, but it also underscores the profound truth of what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated about Our Lady: “Having entered deeply into the history of salvation, Mary, in a way, unites in her person and re-echoes the most important doctrines of the faith” (Lumen Gentium 65). Where a truth about her is denied—deliberately or not—the fullness of Redemption is not proclaimed, God is deprived of the glory that belongs to him and the most perfect work of his creation, who is meant to be “a sure sign of hope and solace to the pilgrim people of God” (Lumen Gentium 68) is demeaned.

 

Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins is an official of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” in Rome, a contributing member of the Pontifical International Marian Academy and the author of Totus Tuus. He is internationally known for his numerous articles on Our Lady and for his scholarly work in the fields of dogmatic and spiritual theology.

 

Notes

(1) Luigi Gambero, S.M., Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999) 154-156, 158-159.

(2) Gambero 192.

(3) John Saward, Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002) 209.

(4) Gambero 252-253.

(5) Gambero 265.

(6) Gambero 294-295.

(7) Gambero 304-309.

(8) Gambero 314.

(9) Gambero 331-332.

(10) Gambero 364.

(11) Peter Damian Fehlner, F.I., Virgin Mother The Great Sign (Washington, NJ: AMI Press, 1993) 13.

(12) Cf. John Saward, Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002) 212-213.

(13) Cf. Fehlner, Virgin Mother 6-9.

(14) Cf. Fehlner, Virgin Mother 8-11.

(15) Domenico Casagrande, Enchiridion Marianum Biblicum Patristicum (Rome: Figlie della Chiesa, 1974) 368 (W. A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2 (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1979) 172 (#1327)).

(16) Casagrande 369, Fehlner, Virgin Mother 9 (trans. slightly altered).

(17) Cf. Fehlner, Virgin Mother 1.

(18) Cf. Karl Rahner, S.J., “Virginitas in Partu: A contribution to the problem of the development of dogma and of tradition” in Theological Investigations 4 (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966) 134 ff. and the response by James T. O’Connor, “Ambrose and Karl Rahner: Reflections on the “Virginitas in Partu” in Mater Fidei et Fidelium: Collected Essays to Honor Theodore Koehler on His 80th Birthday (Marian Library Studies) (n.s.) Vol. 17-23 (1985-1991) 726-731; John R. Meyer, “Ambrose’s exegesis of Luke 2, 22-24 and Mary’s virginitas in partu” Marianum 62 (2000) 169-192 and the response by Peter Damian Fehlner, F.I., “Virginitas in Partu” in Immaculata Mediatrix 2 (2002) 241-246.

(19) Heinrich Denzinger, S.I., Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum: Edizione Bilingue (XXXVII) a cura di Peter Hünermann (Bologna: Edizioni Dehoniane, 2000) #503 (henceforth referred to as D-H); J. Neuner, S.J. & J. Dupuis, S.J. (eds.), The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church Sixth Revised and Enlarged Edition edited by Jacques Dupuis (NY: Alba House, 1998) #703 (henceforth referred to as TCF). For commentary, cf. Fehlner, Virgin Mother 14-16.

(20) D-H #1880; TCF #707.

(21) Robert I. Bradley, S.J. and Eugene Kevane (eds.), The Roman Catechism (Boston, MA: St. Paul Editions, 1985) 49-50.

(22) Lumen Gentium #57.

(23) Catechism of the Catholic Church #499.

(24) D-H #294; TCF #612.

(25) D-H #291; TCF #609; D-H #294; TCF #612.

(26) D-H #427; TCF #620/6.

(27) D-H #442.

(28) D-H #571.

(29) Fehlner, Virgin Mother 4.

(30) Acta Apostolicæ Sedis (henceforth referred to as AAS) 85 (1993) 664, L’Osservatore Romano (English edition, henceforth referred to as ORE) 10 June 1992, p. 13.

(31) In nativitate Domini, sermo 2, no. 2. Enchiridion Marianum 924, English translation in Saward 213, n. 133.

(32) Cf. Saward 212-217.

(33) Cf. Ephemerides Mariologicæ 11 (1961) 137-138, René Laurentin, A Short Treatise on the Virgin Mary trans. Charles Neumann, S.M. (Washington, NJ: AMI Press, 1991) 328-329, and commentary in Fehlner, Virgin Mother 19-21.

(34) Homiletic & Pastoral Review 54 (1954) 446.

(35) AAS 85 (1993) 665, ORE 10 June 1992, p. 13.

(36) Saward 212, n. 128.

(37) AAS 85 (1993) 669, ORE 10 June 1992, p. 14.

(38) AAS 85 (1993) 668-669, ORE 10 June 1992, p. 14.

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Virginity During the Birth

Published on December 16, 2011 by in General Mariology

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It is of divine faith for Catholics to hold that our Lady not only conceived the divine Word as man “without seed, by the Holy Spirit” but also gave birth to Him “without corruption.” (1) According to the Church’s Doctors, this freedom from corruption means that the God-Man leaves His Mother’s womb without opening it (utero clauso vel obsignato), without inflicting any injury to her bodily virginity (sine violatione claustri virginalis), and therefore without causing her any pain. (2) Pope St Leo the Great teaches the doctrine of our Lady’s virginity in partu in his famous Tome, which was read and approved at the Council of Chalcedon: “Mary brought Him forth, with her virginity preserved, as with her virginity preserved she had conceived Him.” (3) The Catechism speaks of our Lady’s virginity being preserved “even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God” (etiam in partu Filii Dei) and quotes the strong reaffirmation of the dogma by the Second Vatican Council: “Christ’s birth ‘did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it’.” (4) In 1992, on the sixteenth centenary of the Council of Capua, Pope John Paul II vigorously proclaimed the virginity of our Lady in partu, comparing our Lord’s birth from the “intact virgin” with His Resurrection from the “intact tomb.” (5)



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INTRODUCTION

 

Throughout the Christian Era many scholars have studied and debated about the connection between the Virgin Birth, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-25, and the Immanuel prophecy recorded in Isaiah 7:14.1 Generally, the focus of any argument is on the Hebrew terms for “virgin”; עלמה(almah) and בתולה(betulah). While these word studies are invaluable, they may not properly indicate the scope of the Matthean use of the Hebrew Scriptures. Matthew was not just describing a historical event. Rather, as we will argue, Matthew was placing the Virgin Birth in his perspective of Jesus and His ministry fulfilling the Hebrew Scripture and prophecy. Matthew was connecting the Virgin Birth to a very specific theological theme found in the Hebrew Scriptures, typified by the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. This connection is why Matthew used a text in which (almah) appears and not the more common term for virgin (betulah). Furthermore, as we will discuss, Matthew moved away from the famous “child of promise” tradition as found in the accounts of Isaac (Genesis 18:1-15), Samson (Judges 13), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25).

Therefore, we will argue that Matthew had a distinct purpose for depicting Mary as an almah. Matthew saw Mary as a pivotal figure in Salvation History. The occurrences of the term fit well into his theology of fulfillment. Moreover, Mary’s virginity will also be a factor in the theology of the Kingdom of God, as presented in his Gospel.

 

THE TERMS ALMAH AND BETULAH

The virgin held a somewhat complex place in the culture of the Ancient Near East. According to J.L. McKenzie, in the popular Semitic cultures “the virgin was endowed with great desirability and greater fertility than the woman who had known man…Socially the virgin was the unmarried daughter who was still under the power of her father.”2 In common usage, the term betulah, like the Greek parthenos, did not always emphasize the “physical integrity” of the woman in question. However, the term did designate her as unmarried. Furthermore, McKenzie argues, the woman would not lose this “technical designation” before marriage, even if she lost her physical integrity. Generally, the girl was married shortly after she reached puberty. In the ancient Semitic cultures, virginity was not a quality to be maintained. This is illustrated in the account of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11). However, Israelite Law places virginity in a bride in high esteem (Exodus 22:15; Leviticus 21:3, 14; Deuteronomy 22:13-21).3

 

The most common term for “virgin” is betulah, which is usually translated as “maiden” or “young girl”. Based on a study of Biblical texts, Akkadian and Ugaritic cognates, G. Wenham concludes that the term means “girl of marriageable age”. The term Betulah “came to include within its range those features which may usually be presumed in an unmarried girl, and may even, in context, be used to express this narrow meaning of virginity”. However, Wenham argues that this is not a technical term for “virgin”.4 On the other hand, Wenham allows for the possibility of the term, like the Greek parthenos, gradually losing its broader meaning of “girl of marriageable age” and acquiring a more restricted connotation of virginity.5

According to C. Miller, the “connotation of virginity is not inherent in this word, although it can be demonstrated that the word does sometimes specifically connote a virgin”. Usually, the specific connotation arises in the context of laws concerning a betrothed woman. Furthermore, the term betulah is often used in a generic or general sense. While it may take on aspects of almah, this term simply means a young girl, usually, of marriageable age. It can also have connotations of maidservant or a newly married woman.6

J. Schmitt points out that “the writers of the OT use the word in a variety of situations. From significant passages, one sees that the word’s meaning is not that of the modern English word, one who has not experienced sexual intercourse. The Hebrew is usually qualified by a phrase such as “who has never known a man” (e.g. Gen. 24:16, Num. 31:18) when the word is used specifically to mean what the word “virgin” means today.” Generally, the word refers to a young woman who has not yet married.7

 

B. Waltke suggests that the term betulah derives from the unused verb, bātal, meaning “to separate.” He argues, following Wenham, that a “strong case can be presented that betulah is not a technical term for virgo intacta in the OT, a conclusion that has important bearing on the meaning of almah in Isa. 7:14.” Waltke points out that “whether betulah is used in a general sense, ‘young woman’, or a more particular sense ‘virgin’ cannot be decided for Ex. 22:16f; Deut. 22:28-29; Lev. 21:2-3; etc. But in Lev. 21:13-14 and Ezk. 44:22 where betulah is contrasted with various classes of women who have had sexual experience, it seems the concept of ‘virgin’ is in view.” He continues to state that is Joel 1:8 the betulah is called upon to lament the death of her husband. Also, in Job 31:1 the term seems to designate a “young married woman.” Overall, Waltke argues for the somewhat ambiguous nature of the term betulah and makes the following comment; “What is clear is that one cannot argue that is Isaiah (7:14) in his famous oracle to Ahaz had intended a virgin he could have used betulah as a more precise term than almah.8

 

C. Lattey suggests the opposite of Waltke. Lattey states that “where it is certain that the sense ‘virgin’ is required the word is not almah but betulah.9 However, he argues that “the right conclusion to be drawn…seems to be that, of itself, almah does not imply virginity in the strict sense, but also that there is no instance in which it is applied to woman already married. It appears, also, to signify a fairly young woman.”10

 

Overall, the term, almah, seems to connote a girl that has reached or passed puberty, is of marriageable age, but might still be under the protection of her family. The term is somewhat elusive and difficult to focus because, as A. Macrae points out, there is not certain root for the word. Also, because of the number of occurrences of betulah, as opposed to the scant occurrences of almah, the exact connotation of the word is hard to comprehend. However, Macrae states that “since betulah is used many times in the OT as a specific word for ‘virgin’, it seems reasonable to consider that the feminine form of this word is not a technical word for virgin but represents a young woman, one of whose characteristics is virginity.” However, consistent with Lattey, Macrae, he points out that “there is no instance where it can be proved that almah designates a young woman who is not a virgin.”11

Vine’s “Dictionary” states that almah “appears to be used more of the concept ‘virgin’ than that of ‘maiden,’ yet always of a woman who had not borne a child.”12E. Young argues that almah is the only word in Hebrew unequivocally signifying an unmarried woman.13 Z. Glaser, similary, points out that “although almah does not implicitly denote virginity, it is never used in the Scriptures to describe a ‘young, presently married woman’. It is important to remember that in the Bible, a young Jewish woman of marriageable age was presumed to be chaste.”14

R. Niessen comments that almah incorporates the elements of the concepts of youth and virginity. Therefore Niessen sees the word עלמהas a “more restrictive term” which refers to a “young woman of biological virginity.”15 Niessen suggests that a clearer depiction of almah might be rendered in a look at גלה, which is the antonym of עלם, the root of almah. The meaning of גלהis “to remove, uncover, or uncover the nakedness.” This connotes having illegal intercourse (Lv 20:11, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21). Therefore, almah, according to Niessen, implies the concealment of a girl until a lawful marriage has taken place. A virgin was called almah “because as a woman she had not been uncovered – she had not known man.”16

 

Waltke points out that “in the Piel [form] it always denotes ‘to uncover’ something which is normally concealed…But it is used most frequently in this stem for designating proscribed sexual activity. It occurs twenty-four times in Lev. 18 and 20 in the expression ‘to uncover the shame’ which denotes sexual intercourse in proscribed situations, usually incest, also Deut. 22:30; 27:20. It is also used of uncovering or removing that which covers: the woman’s skirt (Isaiah 47:3; Nah. 3:5)…In many passages, then, it has the connotation ‘to shame’ ”.17

Westermann and Albertz discuss the term גלה, “to uncover” at length. They agree that the Piel “always indicates the disclosure of something normally hidden…The chief use of the Piel refers, however, to the forbidden sexual realm (40 x of the uncovering of private parts or of that which covers them: skirt, veil, cover). Twenty-four passages in this group occur in Lev 18 and 20. They are legal prescriptions treating forbidden sexual relations; ‘to uncover the shame’ here is primarily an expression for engagement in sexual intercourse. In many passages it has the meaning “to rape”.18

 

Occurrences of the term Almah

It would be appropriate at this time to take an overview of the occurrences of the term almah. We are not going to present a full exegesis of each pericope, however in this way we will be able to see how the term and the context of each occurrence combines to present a depiction of the almah which Matthew deemed appropriate to use in his Virgin Birth account.

 

Genesis 24:16, 43

In the famous account of the introduction of Rebekah to the Abraham-Isaac traditions we see a significant occurrence of both terms, betulah and almah . In v.16 we read the phrase, “a betulah, a man not knowing her.” E. Maly points out that Rebekah “corresponds to ideal sought in a wife – beautiful and a virgin, the last followed by the parallel expression ‘undefiled’.”19 However, in v.43 we read the phrase, “the almah” with no qualifying descriptions.

This account suggests that betulah, in v. 16, is the more common term for any girl of marriageable age. The assumption of a chaste state cannot be made, so the qualifying or parallel phrase had to be employed. Expanding on Maly’s point, Rebekah was the wife of the son of Abraham and the mother of Jacob, or Israel, the father of the twelve progenitors of the Tribes of Israel. Such a pivotal character in the Patriarchal Age of Israel would be presented as an ideal.

Moreover, the placement of almah, after the initial description of Rebekah’s virginity is significant. Instead of using the common term for “virgin”, the author switches to almah. This might suggest that the author is trying to emphasize the important role of Rebekah by using an unusual term to describe her virginity. On the other hand, the use of this term, occurring after the occurrence of betulah, suggests that almah contains all the attributes of betulah in addition to a chaste state. Therefore, in this instance the term almah is used with exact precision to denote the ideal wife of Isaac.

Exodus 2:8

This is the account of how Miriam, the sister of Moses, approached the daughter of Pharaoh with the offer of finding a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby which has just been drawn from the water. The text refers to Miriam as “the almah”. It is generally accepted that this occurrence simply means “the girl”. Likewise, it is accepted that the narrative context plainly indicates that this young girl had to be a virgin. However, it must be pointed out that Miriam, though a young girl, was an integral and vital part of a key point in Israelite history; the life of Moses.

 

I Chronicles 15:20

This is a debated verse among scholars. However, it is generally agreed upon that it is some sort of musical notation. Knoppers suggests that the term “alamoth” refers to “singers or musicians involved in the cult.”20 On the other hand, R. North argues for a different context for the verse. He, similar to Knoppers, contends that alamoth refers to “girls”, possibly meaning “soprano”. North goes on to point to the context in which this verse is placed; the inauguration of the Davidic tabernacle. He provides the following summary:

“The Chronicler suppresses the suggestion of 2 Sm. 6:12 that David set about securing the Ark because it brought blessings to its possessor. In its place, he introduces an entirely original emphasis on the tent, set up by David in imitation and continuance of the desert situation (Num. 1:50). The Mosaic ritual has not been hitherto acknowledged by the Chronicler as preferred by YHWH; cf. 2:16”.21

J.L. McKenzie argues for the probability of a very early portable tent shrine. Premonarchic Israel was a tribal confederation “organized about a central shrine; the traditions of Israel indicate that the earliest form of this central shrine was a tent and not a building, and these traditions are found in documents earlier than the late Priestly source.” Furthermore, the Oracle of Nathan “presupposes that a tent was the normal and traditional dwelling for the Ark (2 Sam. 7:6).”22

R.E. Friedman points out that, according to Biblical narrative, after the destruction of Shiloh, the Tabernacle “somehow comes to be located at the High Place of Gibeon.” When King David brings the Ark to Jerusalem, he inaugurates a new tent. However, he still sends the Chief Priest Zadok, and his officials, to Gibeon to conduct the proper sacrifices, as directed in Leviticus 17. Friedman continues to argue that the Chronicler depicts David offering sacrifice at the threshing floor of Ornan only because he is unable to travel to Gibeon (1 Chronicles21:28-30). Interestingly, “the Chronicler history also reports that this division of locations is the case at the beginning of King Solomon’s reign, stating the ark is in Jerusalem, in David’s tent, but that Solomon and the people go to sacrifice at the Tabernacle at Gibeon (2 Chr.1:3-6).” How the situation of division was resolved is unclear. However, “both Chronicles and Kings report that when Solomon dedicated the Jerusalem Temple, he not only brought the Ark to the Temple but also to the tent of meeting as well (2 Chr. 5:5-1 Kgs. 8:4).”23 This passage seems to suggest that, under Solomon, the religious center of Israel was completely unified in Jerusalem.

The context of this passage is entirely Davidic. However, the Biblical author keeps Mosaic authority as the theological and historical backdrop of David’s actions. For the purposes of this study, we have to note the occurrence of a derivative of the term almah taking place in an integral moment in Israel’s history.

 

Psalms 46:1

This Psalm has been the subject of much conjecture and debate. Some scholars, following S. Mowinckel, argue that this is an “Enthronement Psalm”.24 However, R. Murphy contends that it is “a hymn of praise, or song of Zion.” He argues that there “is a clear structure of three strophes, each ending in a refrain: With God as a refuge there is nothing to fear (4, 8, 12). He supports this argument by pointing out that the second strophe “singles out God’s presence in Zion, which preserves it from the nations.” Furthermore, in the third strophe there is a consideration of the powerful deeds of YHWH and the “Oracle of Supremacy” is quoted in v.11.25

However, on the other hand, one can make a strong argument that this is a “Hymn of Victory”. In sharpening the point made by Murphy, one must look at the refrain of this Psalm; The Lord of Hosts is with us, our stronghold is the God of Jacob. The reference to “hosts” means an army that is ready for war. The army, or hosts, to which is referred is unclear and the identity has been debated among scholars. J.L. McKenzie points out that this term appears in Exodus 7:4, a text considered to be an early tradition. He states that this text is perhaps the “best and earliest witness to the identification of the hosts in the title YHWH of hosts. It seems therefore more probable that the original title designated YHWH, God of the hosts of Israel.26

Such a powerful Psalm is introduced by an attribution to the “virgins”. Most scholars render the Hebrew term עלas “according to”. Therefore, the Psalmist seems to suggest that the “virgins”, possibly cult singers, have offered this “Hymn of Victory” and the powerful deeds of YHWH in some sort of liturgical setting.27 In a liturgical context, one could argue that the “sopranos”, the female singers were showcased in this recital. However, such a musical direction or notation is rare among the Psalms. Therefore, its presence seems to indicate that there is a special, cultic, significance to these singers.

Psalms 68:26

Although a majestic Psalm, this Psalm is problematic for the interpreter. Although some of the Hebrew is poorly preserved, it seems as though this Psalm was written to be sung as the Ark of the Covenant was solemnly processed into the Temple. If this Psalm was to be used in the procession of the Ark into the Temple of Jerusalem, we must date its origin or compilation to the reign of Solomon.

Murphy categorizes this Psalm as a “Hymn of Praise”. However, it summarizes the scholarly debate surrounding the Psalm. He states:

“This obscure psalm is difficult to classify; it has been called a collection of incipits, or opening lines of various songs [Albright], an ‘eschatological hymn’ [Gunkel], and a ‘song of enthronement’ [Mowinckel]. The hymn betrays no particular structure, and in many places the translation must remain uncertain. It is perhaps best understood as part of a liturgy that commemorates Yahweh’s saving deeds of the past, and that accompanies procession and enthronement in the Jerusalem Temple.”28

For our purposes, the placement of the reference to the “virgins” may be significant. Unlike Psalm 46:1, the placement of these singers or musicians is in the description of the procession.

It would be fruitful, at this time, to work toward an understanding of the importance of these Temple processions. P. Duff explains that “processions, a significant part of the cultus of ancient Israel, are depicted throughout the OT…The processions portrayed in the Bible grew out of the ritual practices of the ANE culture and the Hellenized culture of the E. Roman Empire.” P. Duff goes on to state that the “focus of the Israelite procession was the ark. This is clearly evident in 2 Samuel 6, the most detailed processional account in the OT. Music figured prominently in these processions. 2 Samuel 6 depicts musicians playing lyres, harps, tambourines, systrums and cymbals: whereas the procession in Ps. 68: 25-27 is accompanied by singers, musicians, and the young women playing tambourines.”29

The Ark of the Covenant was the symbol of the presence of YHWH. It was the introduction of the Ark into the Jerusalem Temple which acted as its formal dedicaton (1 Kings 8). In 1 Kings 8:1-11 we read of the ceremonial transfer of the Ark from Zion, the “City of David” to the Jerusalem Temple. It should be noted there is a special reference to the Priests carrying the Ark and, with the Levites, the sacred vessels. This notation seems to follow the Davidic order of procession. The clearest example of this is found in 1 Chronicles 15.

G. Knoppers offers a compelling discussion of Davidic processions. He points out the following:

“In the ancient Mediterranean world monarchs were expected to attend to the infrastructure and to be efficient builders, beneficent rulers, and capable administrators. Monarchs were also expected to support the cult…In Chronicles, the monarch’s persistence and punctilious care for the Ark [were] a credit to him, to his administration, and to the city he founded.”

However, the Chronicler must address the problem of the first attempt at bringing the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:1-10). Knoppers points out the distinct differences between the accounts.

“In the first story David convenes all Israel, invites the Priests and Levites, retrieves the Ark, and leads a joyful procession, but he does not personally attend to the care of the cultic symbol itself. When the first procession fails dramatically with Uzzah’s death, David suspends the operation, becomes angry, and is distraught. But he does not abandon the quest. As a resilient leader, he presses on. The Chonicler’s David is an astute expositor of the Torah. In conformity with Pentateuchal (Deuteronomy and Priestly) Law, the king concludes that the reason for the first debacle was the noninvolvement of priests and Levites in carrying the Ark. In this manner, the Chronicler casts David as a devout and resourceful leader. The king accepts the divine verdict, adapts to the changed circumstances and rectifies matters…Precisely because David analyzes the root cause of the earlier disaster and directs the second procession, the second attempt is successful in bringing the Ark to its new home.”30

Building upon Knoppers’ argument, it seems likely that the processional sequence established by David was still used in the Solomonic era. Furthermore, it seems likely that the processional notation is Psalm 68:26 is a piece of a larger or different composition. As earlier scholars have described this Psalm as a collection of incipits, we would suggest that verses 26-27 were the opening couplet of a stanza of another composition inserted into this composite text. It is interesting to note that this is the only reference to the order of procession in the Psalm. Perhaps the Psalmist did not see any cause to mention the obvious; that the Ark was carried by the priests and Levites.

For purposes of this study, we would point out that the alamoth, “virgins” are in the midst of the singers, who lead, and the minstrels, who were following. The notice of the “virgins” or “maidens” is intriguing. It is possible that this is a special musical arrangement for the high soprano voice of the maidens. It is also possible that this reference indicates a special designation in, at least, the music of the cult for these girls. It is easy to overstate the case, but once again we see virgins depicted as playing an important background role for a dramatic moment in OT history.

 

Proverbs 30:19

This verse has often proved problematic for scholars. However, M. Fox advances a compelling analysis. Proverbs 30:19d is the epigram’s culmination. The cohesion of the epigram is built upon the fourfold repetition of the term Derek or “way”. The phrase, “way of a man…” is “usually understood as aeuphemism for sexual intercourse.” The term almah refers to a “young woman, married ornot”.However, the epigram speaks of an unmarried one. The term geber (“man”) and almah (“maid”) are not equivalent in status. A geber is a mature, robust man, whereas almah is closer to ‘girl’. The preposition be, meaning “in” or “by” or “with”, is somewhat ambiguous. Fox comments that “despite the possible ambiguity, it is very likely that the man’s deed in Prov 30:19d is sex with a girl, a maidservant perhaps, rather than courtship.” However, according to Fox, the act to which this phrase refers does not specifically denote adultery, the violation of another man’s marriage. The act could be licentious or wondrous, in the sense of surprising.31

Supporting Fox’s contention that this is not an adulterous affair is the allusion to the adulterous woman in verse 20. Many scholars have argued that this verse stands outside of the epigram, concluding in verse 19, based on the different pattern of syntax. Fox, and others, have suggested this is the “first interpretation of v. 19.”32 If this is the case, then two possible conclusions arise; verse 20 is an explanation of the girl in v.19 or that a contradiction or irony is presented between the maid and the adulterous woman.

The context of the epigram seems to support the latter idea. The things talked about are “wonderful”, פלה, pala. V. Hamilton states that “preponderantly both the verb and substantive refer to acts of God, designating either cosmic wonders or historical achievements on behalf of Israel.” The root refers to events that are unusual or beyond human capabilities. According to Hamilton;

“We may add that it is essential that the miracle is so abnormal as to be unexplainable except as showing God’s care or retribution…There is to be a public sharing of what God has done and not just a private musing. It is of interest to note that the function of God’s wonders is ultimately to make mercy available to the recipient or reciter, and not just to make a demonstration of power.”33

R. Albertz points out that two-thirds of the occurrences of this root are found in the “psalm genres.” Albertz states;

“In the large, major category of its usage, the root [פלה] indicates an event that a person, judging by the customary and the expected, finds extraordinary, impossible, even wonderful. [The meaning] never hinges on the phenomenon as such but includes both the unexpected event as well as one’s astonished reaction to it. Consequently, the language of [פלה] is the language of joyous reaction (praise). The wonder, the astonishment, includes the recognition of the limits of one’s own power to conceptualize and comprehend…it is predominantly understood as God’s activity.”34

Albertz also points out that “in the vast majority of cases,פלהcharacterizes Yahweh’s acts of deliverance, both the great acts of deliverance of the people in the early period of Israel’s history and the various acts of deliverance experienced by individuals.”35Therefore, these wonders relate predominantly to God’s historical action. Albertz will argue that “the primary relationship of פלהto God’s act of deliverance demonstrates that wonders in the OT do not refer to the breach of an objectively established order (e.g. natural law) but to exceeding one’s specific expectations or what one considers possible in one’s situation.” Proverbs 30: 18, according toAlbertz, “links the astounded observation of nature with the hymnic praise of God’s wondrous acts.” While the association with historical acts of deliverance may be lessened, God’s activity is seen in “natural processes.”36

Song of Songs 1:3

The context of this verse is an introduction speaking of love’s desires. Verse 3 initiates a shift in the object of the speech. R. Murphy points out that this introductory passage begins with a dialogue between the girl and the daughters of Jerusalem. However, in v.3 “the girl addresses her lover as though he were present and speaks of the intoxicating effects of his love.” We also see an example of the “vitality of the name in OT thought.”37

J.L. McKenzie presents a compelling explanation of this vitality. He states;

“It is a widespread cultural phenomenon that the name is considered to be more than an artificial tag which distinguishes one person from another. The name was a mysterious identity with its bearer; it can be considered a substitute for the person, as acting or receiving in his place.The name is often meaningful; it not only distinguishes the person, but it is thought to tell something of the kind of person he is…For the name not only suggested its proper meaning, but also words of similar sound; it was part of the mysterious fullness of the power of the name that it should signify more than the word itself, and when such assonances could be observed they were taken as instances of the power of the word. The name was not merely an identification mark; the name must be known, and in this sense it is fame or reputation.”38

According to M. Rose, the name of someone or something is a “distinguishing mark”. This “distinguishing mark makes it possible to differentiate, to structure, and to order…the knowledge of the name opens up specific human dimensions for communication and for fellowship. The one who knows the name of a god or a human can appeal to them. The knowledge of the name can thereby have effective power.” 39

This verse reads that the “virgins” (alamoth) love this man, who is a King (v. 4). Clearly, the virgins have a close connection with this King and they enjoy free communication with him. Based on this connection and communication one might assume that the virgins hold a special status or garner particular favor with the King.

Song of Songs 6:8

In this verse we see the special status of the virgins, already suggested in 1:3, sharply illustrated. The overall context of the verse is the incomparable beauty of the beloved one. Murphy comments that even “the royal harem that would be compared to her is forced to admit her superiority.”40 For our purposes, one should look to the position of the “virgins” in the comparative note. The verse notes the sixty queens and eighty concubines. According to many scholars, that concubinage existed as a cultural institution is clear. However,the legal status, if any, of concubines is unclear. Scholars also agree that there existed a distinction between wives (in this case, queens) and concubines. But this is not a subordinate relationship as the concubines were not regarded as wives of lower or secondary status. R. de Vaux comments about the royal household and harem. “In a society which tolerated polygamy, the possession of a large harem was a mark of wealth and power. It was also a luxury which few could afford, and it became the privilege of kings.”41According to the argument of de Vaux, and others, it seems that the royal harem was comprised of the queens and the concubines.42 Women were introduced into the harem to satisfy the king’s pleasures and, often, to solidify his policies with other nations or peoples. Yet, this verse makes a further separation in the women connected to the king, the “virgins”. The specific connection to the king is impossible to discern. However, the virgins are depicted as having a special, distinctive, place in the royal assembly. By their status, and beauty, the virgins serve to illuminate and illustrate the relationship between the King and his beloved.43

Isaiah 7:14

Possibly the most debated and analyzed of the almah passages. It is the text which Matthew used to describe the Virgin Birth of Jesus (1:23). Therefore, our consideration of this verse will be a bit more involved than with the previous almah passages. The historical context of the passage, the well-documented Assyrian crisis, need not be rehearsed here. However, the use of the term almah is critical to one’s understanding and interpretation of the text.

Clearly, the almah is nameless, which opens the way for a wide array of identifications, but this does not undermine her role in the bringing forth of this sign to the House of David. However, the characteristics of this person are the core of the debate surrounding this passage. Because of the anonymity of the almah, some have speculated that this person is only representational in nature. However, C. Feinberg discredits this position. He states that “first of all, it must be noted that the noun has a definite article. For many this phenomenon is without significance…The better interpretation of the passage would see a significance in the Prophet’s use of the definitearticle, pointing to specific person.”44Therefore, it is justified to look for a historical person as the almah.

The question then shifts to the girl or woman’s virginity. The fact that Isaiah used the term almah has aroused much scholarly interest and argument. The issue is made more complicated by the occurrences of the term for “virgin”; that almah is used rarely while betulah is much more common. Due to the scarcity of occurrences of the term almah and the many occurrences of the term betulah some scholars have come to question the virginity of the Isaian almah. J. Owens typifies this argument. He states that “almah is used only nine times in the entire Old Testament whereas betulah is used (50) fifty times. If Isaiah had intended to convey the idea of virginity he could have used the word which was more specific and in more common usage than the word he employed.”45

R. Wilson argues in a way contrary to Owens’ assessment. Wilson states the following:

“…two conclusions from the evidence seem clear; first that almah, so far as known, never meant ‘young married woman’; and secondly since the presumption in common law and usage was and is, that every almah is virgin and virtuous, until she is proven not to be, we have the right to assume that Rebecca and the almah of Isaiah vii 14 and all other almahs were virgins, until and unless, it shall be proven that they were not.”46

Wilson’s argument is compelling because, unlike Owens, he is not basing his assessment on the number of occurrences. Furthermore, he is not denying the virginal qualities that can be associated with a betulah. He, like Matthew did, is looking at the overall depiction of almah, as presented by the Biblical passages.

R. Reymond makes a complementary argument to that of Wilson. He argues that “God’s ‘sign’ to the House of David entailed the announcement that a virgin would both conceive and while still a virgin bring forth a son- definitely a miracle and answering thereby the demands [contained] in the word ‘sign’ which was God’s characterization of the future event.”47 Reymond then draws a comparative argument between the Isaiah text and Matthew: “A careful reading of both Isaiah 7:14and Matthew 1:22-25 will disclose that the עלמהwas to be a virgin not only at the time of her marriage but also at the time of her conception and delivery.”48

Possibly, Matthew has tapped into a very ancient annunciation formula in his use of Isaiah of Isaiah 7:14. C. Gordon argues for the antiquity of such a formula. He states:

“The commonly held view that ‘virgin’ is Christian, whereas ‘young woman’ is Jewish is not quite true. The fact is that the LXX, which is the Jewish translation made in pre-Christian Alexandria, takes almah to mean ‘virgin’ here. Accordingly, the New Testament follows Jewish interpretation in Isaiah 7:14. Therefore, the New Testament rendering of almah as ‘virgin’ rests on older Jewish interpretation, which in turn is now borne out for precisely this ‘annunciation formula’ by a text that is not only pre-Isaianic but is pre-Mosaic in the form that we now have it on clay tablet.”49

Gordon’s argument is compelling. The existence of such an ancient “annunciation formula” might help to shed further light on the Immanuel passage of Isaiah and the entire “Child of Promise” motif, which is strongly connected to it.50

F. Moriarty advances an argument which enlarges the context of Isaiah 7:14. He argues that a trilogy of passages exists; Isaiah 7:14-17, 9:1-6, and 11:1-5. This trilogy has one common theme, Royal Messianism. This trilogy has one application; one royal messianic figure.51 He continues to argue that “to these oracles the prophecy of Micah 5:2 has a close relation because the mother occupies the same special place already vindicated of the almah in 7. Some authors identify the almah of Isaiah with yôlēdā of Micah, his contemporary.52Also, according to Moriarty, “the formula of the oracle in v.14 has parallels elsewhere in the OT (Gen. 16:11, Jg. 13:3).53 This argument is similar to that of H. Wolf, who contends that the girl was not pregnant at the time of the announcement. This aspect parallels the birth account of Samson (Judges 13:3-5) and is similar to the birth account of Ishmael (Genesis 16:11). Furthermore, the close similarity in structure between the birth announcements ofIshmael and Samson and that of Immanuel underscores the significance of the child.”54

J. Motyer also argues for the significance of the child. He states:

“The content of Isaiah 7:14 does not dwell in isolation. It belongs to a connected and indeed interwoven series. Immanuel is the possessor of Judah (8:8); he is the ultimate safeguard against the machinations of the nations (8:10).Isaiah could not have used the reassuring words ‘God is with us’ unless with a direct reference to the child whose name this was; Immanuel, consequently, the great ‘Prince of Four Names’, the heir and successor of David (9:6,7)…one born in David’s line is unequivocally divine.”55

Overall, the almah of Isaiah 7:14 must go unnamed. However, from Biblical evidence and scholarly argument, it seems that she was a young, unmarried, chaste girl. As with the other almah passages, we see this virgin playing a significant role in a saving act of YHWH, this time bearing the actual “sign” of God’s presence among His people- Immanuel.

 

The Depiction Of The almah

Although the occurrences of the term are relatively few, the above texts allow us to move toward an understanding of the role the almah played in OT thought. The first characteristic of the almah which emerge is the role which she plays. In each case, the almah in question is a participant in or a witness to significant events in Biblical history. Rebecca was a key player in the progeny of Abraham and, therefore, the fulfillment of the Covenant made between him and God. Miriam was an integral factor in the life of Moses, the mediator of the First Covenant. The almahs were a witness to the inauguration of the Davidic Tabernacle in 1 Chronicles 15. The almahs offer up the “Hymn of Victory” celebrating the power of YHWH in Psalm 46. Likewise, in Psalm 68, we see the almahs taking part in a “Hymn of Praise” commemorating the saving deeds of YHWH. In Proverbs 30:19 the text places the almah in the context of something “wonderful”, a term connected to the great acts of deliverance performed by YHWH. The two references in Song of Songs points to the special relationship that exists between the almah, possibly Israel, and the King, possibly YHWH. Finally, in the Isaiah passage the almah plays a vital role in bringing forth the sign for the House of David. The Biblical writers knew the gravity and significance of the events which they narrated. It seems doubtful that they would use a common, possiblyambiguous, term to designate the witnesses to Divine acts of power. The common term, betulah, would not be fitting to describe these uncommon events. However, we see the almah always in a supportive, if not foundational, role to the acts of YHWH as He reveals His salvific will upon the historical stage. This illustrates the special role of the almah in the Salvation History of YHWH and, perhaps, speaks to the scarcity of occurrences of the term in OT usage.

We must now address the virginity of the almah. From the OT passages is seems that she was undoubtedly a chaste, young girl. Factoring out the Matthean interpretation for now, we can find support for this statement in controllable evidence found in our aforementioned occurrences. Generally, scholars agree that any maid in question will be young, so youth is not a major focus for debate. Now we must look to see if any indications of chastity are present. We find our first supporting text in the account of Rebecca. Following Maly, it should be observed that the term betulah needed a qualifying comment regarding any chaste state.56 As already pointed out, the term almah comes after the term betulah which suggests that only the term, almah, is being depicted as containing the connotation of chastity. The other clear example of the chaste state of the almah is Songs 6:8. As we have noted, the idea of separation from the queens and concubines denotes a special role of the virgins. While the queens and concubines, the harem, serve as political power instruments and objects of kingly pleasure the virgins seem to be removed from this sort of designation. Yet, while removedfrom these roles, the virgins still seemed to have enjoyed close communication and contact with the King.57 Finally, the text of Isaiah 7:14 provides more support to our contention of the chaste state of the almah. To paraphrase Wilson’s argument, based on common law and custom we can assume the virtue of any almah. In his prophecy, Isaiah could use the term almah without the need to qualify it to his audience. Isaiah used a term which contained special connotations to illustrate the magnitude of this sign for the House of David. The more common term, betulah, might lessen the impact of the prophecy because of the needed attending explanations.

Therefore, the almah can, and should, be understood a young girl, usually of marriageable age – Miriam in the Exodusaccount being a notable exception. She is a chaste witness and, sometimes, factor in the saving acts of God. The OT, by the scarcity of occurrences of this term, depicts a special nature and role of this young woman. We will now argue that this depiction is what Matthew picked up in his birth account of Jesus.

 

MATTHEW’S USE OF THE IMAGE OF THE ALMAH

The uses of the image of the “virgin” in the Gospel account of Jesus’ birth differ greatly. Luke, in a masterful piece of writing, firmly embeds Jesus’ birth account in the literary and theological traditions of the OT. He does this by presenting the birth in the “Child of Promise” format. As we have noted, Luke uses all of the classic elements of this format or motif; announcement of imminent pregnancy, an obstacle to this pregnancy which is stated in the account, and the fulfillment of God’s word in the recording of the birth of the child. The announcement passages in Luke seem to culminate this tradition as we see the angel Gabriel making the announcement, not an unnamed angel or messenger, Mary specifically stating her virginal status, which is the ultimate obstacle to pregnancy, and the mission of the son who was to be born. Depicting this event as a culmination allows Luke to develop a forward orientation, illustrated in Mary’s Canticle-The Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55).58

Although the great “Children of Promise” were undoubtedly known to Matthew, he used the image of the almah in a different way. Many attempts to explain and interpret Matthew 1:23 have been made. Several “logical” explanations, as distilled by J. Willis, have emerged; allegory, accommodating reason to methods of argumentation, analogy between Immanuel and Jesus, double-fulfillment, type-antitype, midrash, pesher or commentary, and sensor plenior or a fuller sense of Isaiah.59 While these explanations all have merit, none of them seem to capture the singular quality of Matthew’s birth account.

It has long been argued by scholars that Matthew is the most “Jewish” of the Gospels and wrote for a specifically Jewish Christian audience. Therefore, we can presume that he knew the Hebrew meanings attached to the terms betulah and almah. As important as the denotations and connotations of these terms are, the true significance of Matthew’s description of the Virgin Birth of Jesus rests in his use Scripture and OT prophecy. J.L. McKenzie offers a summary of the role of Scripture in the Matthean Gospel:

“The Jewish Christian character of Mt is evident in his conception of Jesus as the fulfillment of the OT, a theme which is more prominent in Mt than in Mk-Lk…The idea of fulfillment is basic in Mt and perhaps original with him; but it would be a misconception to understand fulfillment in terms merely of prediction of future events. Jesus fulfills the OT by being the reality which is initiated in the OT, which, because it is the earlier phase of a single saving act, exhibits a community of character and traits of Jesus.”60

Therefore, Matthew seems to depict the idea, as we suggested above, that the theme of witnessing or participating in God’s saving acts runs through the almah passages.

H. Creager points to the messianic character of the Matthean account. Matthew makes extensive use of messianic prophecies. There are three major types of OT messianic prophecies. First, there are explicit or direct predictions of the Christ, as found in Micah 5:2. Second, there are general statements about the messianic era and the blessings connected to it, without any reference to a personal Messiah (Isaiah 2:2-4). Third, there is an extensive group of passages whose primary significance is in their connection with situations or events that transpired in OT times but have a secondary reference and application to Christ. In the OT passages the NT writers found “illustrative parallels” to events pertaining to Christ.61

In Mt 1:22-23, according to R.E. Brown, the OT is cited directly. Brown states that this is the first instance in the Gospel of “formula citations or fulfillment citations”. These are citations of Scripture that are “introduced by a formula which indicates that the NT event took place in order to fulfill the OT passage which is being cited”. He continues:

“That Jesus is to be related to the Scriptures is commonplace in early Christianity, but Matthew has uniquely standardized the fulfillment of the prophetic word. In finding this fulfillment, Matthew makes no attempt to interpret what we might consider the full or contextual meaning of the OT text that he cites; rather he concentrates on features of the text wherein there is a resemblance to Jesus or the NT event. His method of quoting the prophet directly rather than weaving an allusion into the wording of the Matthean narrative is an indication of a Christian effort to supply the story of Jesus with OT background and support.”62

Brown argues that the citations had a “didactic purpose”. They were meant to inform Christian readers and give support to their faith. The fact that some citations are connected to the “minutiae of Jesus’ career” seems to indicate that the whole of Jesus’ life “lay within God’s foreordained plan.” Noteworthy is the fact that there is an uneven distribution of citations throughout the Gospel, with the highest concentration being in the Infancy Narratives. Brown attempts to explain this distribution.

“This concentration of formula citations may mean that the evangelist regarded the infancy as a section of Jesus’ life still relatively unexplored in reference to the OT. In this it might be contrasted to the passion which had been studies against an OT backdrop from the beginning of Christian preaching. The readers of the passion story would not have been in such need of Matthew’s nota bene technique of formula citations.”63

The above arguments of Creager and Brown are supported by Wolf, who states that “Matthew’s use of this passage [Isaiah 7:14] in the New Testament is consistent with his references to other OT verses. On occasion he employs a secondary interpretation which differed considerably from the primary meaning.”64 If we may restate Wolf’s position; the primary focus and fulfillment of the Isaiah passage may have been in the historical period of Assyrian ascendancy. However, Matthew cares little about this historical context, although he most probably knew it very well, and sees a second fulfillment or trajectory of the prophecy. This trajectory brings it to the birth of Jesus.

Some scholars, such as Z. Glaser, give credibility to the Matthean passage because he is not trying to fit Jesus’ birth and life into a traditional mold, such as the “Child of Promise” motif. Rather, Matthew is relying on Scripture to explain the Virgin Birth. This supports Brown’s stance that the purpose of the Infancy Narratives was didactic in nature.

Motyer argues strongly for Jesus being the object of the trajectory of the Isaiah passage. He states:

“The Biblical claim that the Immanuel prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ is not only and obviously justified…It is clear that Jesus alone has the credentials to claim the Divine-human ancestry and nature, the righteous character and worldwide rule prophesied for Immanuel. Clearly, also in Him the full implications of Immanuel’s birth of the עלמהare realized. As an examination of Biblical usage will show, עלמהis the only Hebrew word which without qualification means an unmarried woman- however marriageable she may be. Its rival in this discussion, בתלוה, too often requires some such additional description as ‘neither touched by man’ (Gen 24:16; Judges 11:37-39) to merit serious consideration as a technical term for virgo intacta. Matthew, therefore, performed no exegetical sleight of hand in translating Isaiah 7:14 with the word parthenos.65

Therefore, Matthew presents a well defined depiction of the almah. He draws upon the imagery presented in the OT. She is a young chaste girl of marriageable age. She bears witness to the saving acts of God, often as a vital factor in these acts. These acts, as described in Proverbs 30:19, are wonderful. They are seen as God’s activities, historical events on behalf of Israel, therefore often beyond human capabilities and comprehension. Yet, the almah is part of the sweeping events of Salvation History. These qualities, seen in varying degrees in all the almah passages of the OT, come together, are culminated, and embodied in Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Through his use of Biblical imagery, Matthew reveals his belief that Mary was indeed a chaste virgin at the birth of Jesus. However, even though he supports his view with powerful OT texts he still is careful how he presents the Virgin Birth. He states that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:18). Brown argues that “neither in Matthew or Luke does the divine begetting of Jesus become a sexual begetting. The Holy Spirit is the agency of God’s creative power, not a male partner in a marriage between a deity and a woman (hieros gamos)”.66 One reason for this emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit is that he must guard against confusion with the Greco-Roman gods, Zeus and Hercules. One has to note that in 167 CE, the Seleucid ruler of Judaea, Antioches IV formally “rededicated the Jerusalem Temple as a shrine of the supreme Greek deity, Olympian Zeus.”67 Also, by the time of the Gospels the original Grecian oaf, Herakles, developed into the Roman god, Hercules. Herakles was deified before the time of Jesus (2 Maccabees 4:19) in the Hellenic pantheon. According to classical mythology, Hercules was the son of the father-god, Zeus/Jupiter and a mortal woman. He had special powers which derived from his father. Upon his death, Hercules was taken up to Olympus by the power of his father, where he became fully divine. In short, Hercules occupied a similar in the Hellenic religion as Jesus now occupied in Jewish Christianity. Quite possibly, this possible confusion was a catalyst for Christian preaching to shift its emphasis from being “less missionary” to “more didactic”.68 Therefore, Matthew, as did Luke, guarded against such confusion.69

 

Matthew and the question of Mary’s perpetual virginity

Regarding what is, possibly, the most controversial issue about Mary, we must now turn our attention to the idea of Mary being a chaste virgin after the birth of Jesus. Admittedly, Matthew does not confront this question directly. However, the argument will be made that he sets the foundation for this theological teaching.70

We would suggest that Mary preserved her virginity as a continuation of her role in the saving act of God. The idea of sexual abstinence, within the confines of marriage, in service of the Lord has its roots in the OT. P. Staples contends that there are at least two contexts in which normal conjugal activity must cease: Theophany and Holy War. In each context, one is attempting to achieve the “highest degree of personal holiness” possible in light of the “unusual intensity” of God’s presence.71

The text of Exodus 19:15 commands complete sexual abstinence in preparation for the great Theophany at Sinai. However, we see the practice of sexual abstinence, most prominently, in the accounts which speak of the warrior’s preparation for battle. Such abstinence occurs twice in the Davidic traditions; 1 Samuel 21:6, wherein David speaks of the consecration of his men in the “Holy Bread” event, and 2 Samuel 11:11, wherein we see Uriah the Hittite refusing to sleep with Bathsheba.

While it is not necessary to envision Mary as a Holy Warrior, one must see that her life was built around the presence of God, in the person of Jesus, her son. Jesus, according to Matthew, fulfilled the Isaiah prophecy of Immanuel, roughly translated a “God is with us”. This would constitute the “unusual intensity” of God’s presence, of which Staples speaks, and prompt her to live in a state of the highest degree of holiness possible throughout her lifetime- that of a chaste virgin in service to the Lord.

There is another passage in the OT which might provide a Scriptural background for Mary’s perpetual virginity; Numbers 30. 72 The context of this chapter deals with vows and oaths of unmarried people. The passages dealing with women begin in v.4 and state that the verbal commitments of a woman may be disavowed by the man who exercises legal control over her, her father or husband.73It is well documented that the virginity of a girl is to be protected by the parents, primarily the father. According to vss. 7-8 the husband takes up the “previously held responsibilities of the father.” Any commitments made by the girl will remain in place if the husband, as applied to the father, remains silent at the time of his hearing.74 Therefore, Matthew seems to be applying this set of laws to the situation of Mary and Joseph, as in 1:19 we read that Joseph did not want to expose her to the law and wanted to divorce quietly when he found out about her pregnancy during the betrothal period. Mary had made a commitment, or had it conferred on her, to the service of God when she became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. By his silence and subsequent marriage to Mary, Joseph is honoring the commitment entailed in the pregnancy.Moreover, he is taking up the responsibilities of her father by now becoming the caretaker and protector of her virginity.

The significance of Joseph emerges in this passage. As Brown argues; by taking Mary who was with child, into his home “rather than divorcing Mary as he had proposed (1:19); Joseph assumes public responsibility for the mother and the child who is to be born.” This responsibility is further emphasized by Matthew in the naming of the child. Again, following Brown, “by naming the child, Joseph acknowledges him as his own, the law prefers to base paternity on the man’s acknowledgement…Joseph, by exercising the father’s right to name the child (cf. Luke 1:60-63), acknowledges Jesus and thus becomes the legal father of the child.”75

A major concern of Matthew is that Jesus is the “son of David”. One must remember that Matthew’s key prophetic passage, Isaiah 7:14, is in the context of a sign to the “House of David.” This sonship is through the agency of Joseph. However, according to Brown;

“Matthew takes great pains to stress that his descent was not communicated through normal sexual relations between husband and wife… Matthew refuses to allow the reader to misunderstand Mary’s situation the way Joseph does in 1:19. Rather he tells the reader ahead of time in 1:18 that Mary’s pregnancy is through the Holy Spirit. If Matthew rules out any human sexual agent in the begetting of the child, he goes further by denying sexual relations between Mary and Joseph after the child has been conceived (1:25). Davidic descendancy is to be transferred not through natural paternity but through legal paternity.”76

Therefore, Matthew has composed this birth account in such a way that there can be no question or scandal involving the birth and legitimacy of Jesus. Matthew embeds the birth account in Jewish Law and, in doing so, depicts Joseph as the one who will safeguard Mary and Jesus. Moreover, by taking over the role of patriarch of the family, assuming the role of Mary’s father, it is understandable that Joseph would help to preserve Mary’s chastity after the extraordinary conception which occurred.

 

 

Mary, the perpetual virgin

Many theological arguments over the centuries have been forwarded about Mary’s perpetual virginity. Theologians have suggested, starting with the Protoevangelium of James that Mary was under some form of vow of chastity. However, there is little evidence for such arguments.

However, beginning with Origen, there is another line of argument that is supported in the Gospels. Origen argued that once Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit she would not have engaged in marital intercourse with a man. Therefore, “she thus becomes the model of all those who would choose virginity or celibacy as a way of life for the sake of the Kingdom of God.”77

The idea of celibacy, foregoing sexual relations, for the sake of the Kingdom of God is an idea found in Matthew 19:12. This passage is unique to Matthew but fits in well with his recurring theme of the Kingdom, or reign, of God. M. Pamment supports this as she argues that Jesus is advocating celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, thus abrogating Genesis 1:28. Pamment states that this teaching is consistent with the Matthean emphasis on complete dedication to God and His Kingdom.78

F. Moloney claims that 19:12 “can take us back to the ipsissima verba Jesu used by Matthew or his source, in which Jesus speaks of the purpose and function of his own celibate life.”79 Moloney argue that Matthew 3-9 did not formulate one message, about marriage and divorce being directed at the Pharisees, followed by another separate statement in vss 10-12, about voluntary celibacy directed to the disciples. On the contrary, vss 3-9, which were taken from Mark and rearranged for his own purpose by Matthew, constitute the preface for the dialogue of question and answer found in vss 10-12.80 The passage 19:9-12, save the question in v. 10, “are directed to the same problem: the regulation of the marriage of the newly- arrived gentile converts.” Verse 12, specifically, continues and concludes the argument on divorce.81 Matthew, according to Moloney, argues that celibates should be “swept off their feet by the overwhelming presence of God’s Lordship that there can be no possibility of committing themselves to a further marriage relationship.”82 This argument applies, particularly, to Mary as she had a unique experience with the presence of God; she felt the power of the Holy Spirit again at Pentecost. Throughout her life, Mary was enveloped in God’s presence. She did not need a vow to win divine favor; it was already conferred on her. The presence of God was a fulfillment to the prophecies. Her perpetual chaste status was the culmination, not mere fulfillment, of the role of the almah in the OT. The text of Matthew 19:12 seems to support Mary’s role. Moloney was correct in his assessment that this text regulates marriage. But, this text goes beyond concerns over converts and clarification of the Law and looks to the Kingdom of God. Mary was the embodiment of this unique Matthean teaching and the ethics of the Kingdom was consistent with such a life as hers.

H. Kvalbein contends that accepting the reign, Kingdom of God, was not a passive undertaking and argues:

“Jesus has performed the Reign of God in his time in the form of miracles and parables, in actions and in words…so that we can come under his rule and participate in this performance. To live in the Kingdom of God is to live in a fellowship where the values of the Kingdom are performed in living life.”83

Also consistent with the ethics of the Kingdom is the renouncing of marriage, and the accompanying sexual obligations. Kvalbein states that such actions constitute an “ethos far beyond the demands of the Law. Marriage is in accord with God’s will according to the Creation story. But the call to the Kingdom ministry has an even higher priority…[It] is not linked to the demands of the Law, but to the demands of the Kingdom.”84 Kvalbein concludes:

“The Kingdom is the ultimate motivation for a life according to God’s will…Discipleship may imply demands far beyond the Commandments of the Law, e.g. renouncement of marriage and family life, of profession and economic security. A willingness to such renunciation is in principle demanded from all disciples or all Christians.”85

B. Wiebe argues in a similar way. Wiebe states [that]:

“To participate in the Kingdom is to anticipate the end of evil and the vindication of God’s righteousness…Response does not take the form of waiting simply for the coming of a future event but of participation in the Kingdom of God as it has begun and is to be revealed at the end in glory.”86

Also, the Kingdom of God, unquestionably, has a future orientation but is “effective already in the present. This calls for corresponding action in human response…Active response is the only way to participate in it. Those who, for the sake of the Kingdom, leave behind everything participate in a new family [community].”87

Following Kvalbein and Wiebe, we can say that Mary, and Joseph, did not renounce the Law. Rather, for the sake of the Kingdom of God they went beyond the constraints and obligations inherent in the Law. By her lifelong chastity, Mary became the model of response to the call of the Kingdom.Therefore, it seems very likely that she was paradigmatic or foundational to Jesus’ teaching as recorded in Matthew 19:12.

 

CONCLUSION

As we have noted throughout this study, Matthew uses an interesting method in explaining the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Instead of using the “Child of Promise” format, favored by Luke, Matthew works to embed the birth of Jesus in the Law. This creates a powerful complement to Luke, as he embeds the birth account in the literary and theological tradition of the OT. Matthew, probably because of his Jewish background, insists on legal propriety and prophetic fulfillment regarding the birth of Jesus. Part of this fulfillment is to insist that Mary was a chaste virgin, almah, at the time of the birth of Jesus.

However, based on the Scriptural evidence we can say that although Matthew never explicitly stated that Mary was a perpetual virgin he definitely laid the foundation for the theological teaching of the Church. He presented Mary as the culmination and fulfillment of the OT almah passages. She was not only a witness but a vital participant in the greatest saving act of God, the bringing about of the Kingdom as embodied in the ministry of Jesus, her son. The Kingdom of God is tied to the “eschatological hope of Israel. For the hope of Israel was the hope of the coming Kingdom of God.”88

From the moment of conception, Mary’s life was inextricably bound to that of her son and, therefore, the Kingdom of God. J. Bright argues that the call of the Kingdom is not “a call to honor or to victory, as the world understands those terms, but to utter self-denial. Over and over again we hear of the tremendous cost of it. One leaves father and mother, home and family, at its summons.”89 Moreover, the “ethics of Jesus are the ethics of the Kingdom; and Jesus expected his followers to take them seriously, not only in his generation but in all generations.”90 Mary was the original model of response to the call of the Kingdom of God. Mary’s perpetual virginity was the sign and seal of her response.

Mary provided the human element of the Incarnation, the moment when the Word of God became flesh. With the Incarnation humanity was forever dignified. The Incarnation also glorified Mary’s virginity. Let us end with Article 499 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as it bases it teachings on Lumen Gentium:

“The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth ‘did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.’ And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the ‘Ever-Virgin’.”

 

REFERENCES

 

Dictionaries, Commentaries

Brown, R.E., Fitzmyer, J., Murphy, R., ed. The Jerome Biblical Commentary 2vol Englewood Cliffs: Pentice-Hall, 1968.

Freedman, D.N., editor-in-chief. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 volumes. NY: Doubleday, 1992

Harris, R. Archer, G., B. Waltke, ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.

Jenni, E., Westermann, C., ed. Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997.

McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible. Chicago: Bruce, 1966.

Vine, W.E., Unger, M., White, W., ed. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville: Nelson, 1996.

 

Books

Bright, J. The Kingdom of God. Nashville: Abingdon, 1953.

Brown, R. E. The Birth of the Messiah. NY: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, R. E. The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus. NY: Paulist, 1973.

Fox, M. Proverbs 10-31. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Grant, M. The History of Ancient Israel. NY: Scribner’s, 1984.

Knoppers, G. Chronicles 10-29. NY: Doubleday, 2004.

Young, E. The Book of Isaiah – A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1997.

 

Articles, Journals

Creager, H.L. “Immanuel Passage as Messianic Prophecy.” Lutheran Quarterly 7 #4 (1955): 339-343.

Feinberg, C. “The Virgin Birth in the Old Testament and Isaiah 7:14.” Bibliotheca Sacra 119 #475 (1962): 251-258.

Glaser, Z. “Almah: Virgin or Young Maiden.” 1 Sept. 1993. Issues: A Messianic Jewish Perspective.http://jewsforjesus.org/publications/9_1/almah (30, July 2009).

Gordon, C. “Almah in Isaiah 7:14.” Journal for Bible and Religion 21 #2(1953):106.

Kvalbein, H. “The Kingdom of God in the Ethics of Jesus.” Communio Viatorum 40 #3 (1998): 197-227.

Lattey, C. “The Term Almah in Is 7:14.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9 #1 (1947): 89-95.

Miller, C. “Maidenhood and Virginity in Ancient Israel.” Restoration Quarterly 22 #4 (1979): 242-246.

Moloney, F. “Matthew 19:3-12 and Celibacy: A Redactional and Form Critical Study.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2 Ja (1979): 42-60.

Moriarty, F. “The Emmanuel Prophecies.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 19 #2 (1957): 226-233.

Motyer, J.A. “Content and Context in the Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14.” Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970): 118-125.

Niessen, R. “The Virginity of the Almah in Isaiah 7:14.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 #546 (1980): 133-150.

Owens, J. J. “The Meaning of Almah in the Old Testament.” Review & Expositor 50 #1 (1953): 56-60.

Pamment, M. “Singleness and Matthew’s Attitude to the Torah.” JSNT 17 (1983): 73-86.

Reymond, R. “Who is the יlmh of Isaiah 7:14.” Presbyterian 15 #1 (1989): 1-15.

Staples, P. “Occasions for Sexual Abstinence in the Bible.” Modern Churchman 11 #1 (1967): 26-29.

Wenham, G.J. “Betûlāh, A Girl of Marriageable Age.” Vetus Testmentum 22 #3 (1972): 326-348.

Wiebe, B. “Messianic Ethics: Response to the Kingdom of God.” Interpretation 45 #1 (1991): 29-42.

Willis, J.T. “The Meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and its Application in Matthew 1:23.” Restoration Quarterly 21 #1 (1978): 1-18.

Wilson, R.D. “The Meaning of ‘almah in Isaiah vii.14.” Princeton Theological Review 24 #2 (1926): 308-316.

Wolf, H. M. “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22.” JBL 91 #4 (1972): 449-456.

1 The Gospel of Luke also records a Virgin Birth narrative but, as we will discuss, this was of a very different purpose and writing style than the one found in the Matthean Gospel.

 

2 J.L. McKenzie, “virgin”, Dictionary of the Bible (Chicago: Bruce, 1965), 913.

 

3 McKenzie, “Dictionary”, 914. McKenzie also points out that virginity was considered an ascetic ideal in the NT, but explicit recommendations of the ideal are scarce. Jesus Himself recommends virginity only in Matthew 19:12. However, Paul, throughout 1 Corinthians 7, proposes the ideal explicitly.

 

4 G. Wenham, “Betûlāh, a Girl of MarriageableAge” Vetus Testamentum 22#3 (1972), 347.

 

5 Ibid., 348. This would raise the possibility, in NT Aramaic, that betulah may have supplanted almah. However, the Hebrew texts would still retain almah, so his point, while perhaps valid, would not impact Matthew.

 

6 C. Miller, “Maidenhood and Virginity in Ancient Israel” Restoration Quarterly 22#4 (1979), 243.

 

7 J. Schmitt, “Virgin”, Anchor Bible Dictionary (NY: Doubleday, 1992), 6:853.

 

8 B. Waltke, “בתולה, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 1:137-138.

 

9 C. Lattey, “The term Almah in Is. 7:14” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 9 #1(1947), 92.

 

10 Lattey, 89.

 

11 A. Macrae, “ עלםTheological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 2:672.

 

12 W.E. Vine, “virgin”, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville: Nelson, 1984), 277.

 

13 E. Young, The Book of Isaiah- A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1997), 288.

 

14 Z. Glaser, “Almah: Virgin or Young Maiden” Issues: A Messianic Perspective 9:#1 (9/1/1993- online archives).

 

15 R. Niessen, “The Virginity of the ‘Almah’ in Isaiah 7:14” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 #546 (1980), 147.

 

16 Niessen, 134.

 

17 Waltke, “גלהTheological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Bruce, 1980), 1:161.

 

18 C.Westermann/E. Jenni “גלהTheological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), 1:317.

 

19 E. Maly, “Genesis”, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 1:25.

 

20 G. Knoppers, 1Chronicles 10-29 (NY: Doubleday, 2004), 623.

 

21 R. North, “The Chronicler: 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah”, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice-Hall, 1986), 1:410.

 

22 McKenzie, Dictionary, 863.

 

23 R.E. Friedman, “Tabernacle”, Anchor Bible Dictionary (NY: Doubleday, 1992), 6:293.

 

24 For a detailed discussion of this point, cf. S. Mowinckel, “Psalm Criticism Between 1900 and 1935”, Vetus Testamentum 5 (1955), 13-33.

 

25 R. Murphy, “Psalms”, Jerome, 1:584.

 

26 McKenzie, Dictionary, 375.

 

27 If this theory is correct, an argument may be made which uses this Psalm as a model of sorts for Mary’s “Magnificat”, found in Luke 1:46-55. Although one must use caution so as not to overstate the similarities between the two texts. However, the general context of a virgin reciting a hymn praising the might of the Lord is undeniable.

 

28 Murphy, “Psalms, 1:588.

 

29 P. Duff, “Processions”, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:470-471.

 

30 Knoppers, 631-633.

 

31 M. Fox, Proverbs 10-31 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 870-872.

 

32 Ibid., 873.

 

33 V. Hamilton, “wonder”, Theological Wordbook, 2: 723.

 

34 R. Albertz, “to be wondrous”, Theological Lexicon, 2:982.

 

35 It should be observed that this root occurs in the birth account of Samson (Judges 13:8), when Manoah asked the angel of the Lord his name and the angel replied that it is “wonderful” or, as often translated, “mysterious”. In this account we see God’s activity in the early history of Israel, beginning the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Philistines (Judges 13:5). We also see the dramatic reaction of Samson’s parents, particularly Manoah, who thought he has seen God and was now going to die. Furthermore, we see the exceeding of the parents expectations; a son given to a barren mother(Judges 13:2), who was going to help liberate Israel. Therefore, this is a classic example of the properties of פלה and how God’s activities were, and are, often beyond human understanding and explanation.

 

36 Albertz, 2:982.

 

37 R. Murphy, “Canticle of Canticles”, Jerome, 1:508

 

38 McKenzie, Dictionary, 603.

 

39 M. Rose, “Names of God in the OT”, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 4:1002.

 

40 Murphy, “Canticle”, 1:509.

 

41 R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Social Institutions (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 1:115.

 

42 It is interesting to note that this verse is the only use of the term “queen” in connection with Israel, as most scholars interpret the female beloved’s identity. One should also note that often concubines were originally slave girls who found favor with the master or king.

 

43 We must also point out that in v. 9 we see the queens and concubines being grouped together again. The virgins are not specifically mentioned. This further supports our contention that the virgins comprised a special group within the royal assembly.

 

44 C. Feinberg, “The Virgin Birth in the Old Testament and Isaiah 7:14”, Bibliotheca Sacra 119 #475 (1962), 255.

 

45 J.J. Owens, “The meaning of ‘almah in the Old Testament”, Review & Expositor 50 #1 (1953), 60.

 

46 R.D. Wilson, “The Meaning of ‘almah (a.v. virgin) in Isaiah vii.14”, Princeton Theological Review 24 #2

(1926), 316.

 

47 R. Reymond, “Who is the ‘lmh of Isaiah 7:14”, Prebyterion 15 #1 (1989), 6.

 

48 Ibid., 10.

 

49 C. Gordon, “Almah in Isaiah 7:14”, The Journal of Bible & Religion 21 #2 (1953), 106.

 

50 We suggest that more study is needed on this topic, but we can only its rich potentialities as a close examination would take us too far afield of our topic.

 

51 F. Moriarty, “The Emmanuel Prophecies”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 19 #2 (1957), 226.

 

52 Ibid., 231.

 

53 Ibid., 230.

 

54 H.M. Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22”, Journal of Biblical Literature 91 #4 (1972), 456. Wolf’s argument supports our contention that Annunciation formulae are connected to the “Child of Promise” traditions of the Old Testament. The birth account of Samson is the fullest OT example of this tradition. It is possible that the Child of Promise traditions grew from the annunciation traditions. The Child of Promise traditions always contain the fulfillment of the announcement, whereas the simple announcement formula does not. Therefore, this incongruity might indicate the Isaiah passage echoes a tradition which precedes the Child of Promise traditions.

 

55 J. A. Motyer, “Content and Context in the Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14”, Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970), 123.

 

56 It should be observed that the Lukan account of the “Annunciation” also contains such a qualifying comment, from Mary herself (1:34). We suggest that this attending, qualifying, comment was made to avoid any ambiguity and confusion with the Gk term parthenos, which denoted only “virgin” or “maid”, with no implication of chastity. Luke was Gentile and saw the need to avoid confusion with the stories that abounded in Hellenistic mythologies. It is difficult to determine the significance which the term almah contained for Luke. However, the Gospel of Matthew, undoubtedly written by a Jewish Christian for a Jewish audience, encompassed the attending issues of the term and the connotations of almah would be known and of great importance to it.

 

57 One has to wary not to overstate this argument as, due to the scarcity of occurrences, a full depiction of this role is neither given nor possible to determine. However, we contend that this text provides a strong indication and evidence for the role of the almah.

 

58 Luke’s use of the “Child of Promise” motif deserves much more study and comment; we make reference to it here as a contrast to the Matthean account.

 

59 J.T. Willis, “The Meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and its Application in Matthew 1:23”, Restoration Quarterly 21#1

(1978), 15-16.

 

60 McKenzie, Dictionary, 555.

 

61 H.L. Creager, “Immanuel Passage as Messianic Prophecy”, Lutheran Quarterly 7 #4 (1955), 339.

 

62 R.E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (NY: Doubleday, 1993), 97.

 

63 Ibid., 99.

 

64 Wolf, “Solution”, 456.

 

65 J.A. Motyer, “Content and Context in the Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14”, Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970), 125.

 

66 Brown, “Messiah”, 137.

 

67 M. Grant, The History of Ancient Israel (NY: Scribner’s, 1984)), 208.

 

68 Grant, 99.

 

69 Matthew knew well the Greek influences in Jerusalem. Judaism was corrupted by Hellenism, as a gymnasium was constructed, as part of the Hellenization of the city (1 Mc 1:14; 2Mc 4:12). Many scholars comment that this was an essential feature of the Greek city, or polis. Moreover, Antiochus IV, “Epiphanes”, proposed the name “Temple of the Olympian Zeus for the Jerusalem Temple (2 Mc 6:2). Therefore, there was a viable danger of the traditions surrounding Jesus, and Judaism, being absorbed into Hellenism.

 

70 The first extended theological treatise advocating the inviolable and perpetual virginity of Mary was the Protoevangelium of James. Herein the author argues that Mary was vowed into lifelong chastity by her mother, as in the OT traditions if 1 Samuel1:11, 2:22, and Luke 2:36-37. While this argument fulfills all the conditions presented in the Gospels concerning Mary’s virginity, there is little evidence to support the vow made by Mary’s mother, St. Anne.

 

71 P. Staples, “Occasions for Sexual Abstinence in the Bible”, Modern Churchman11 #1 (1967), 27.

 

72 Brant Pitre, in his online commentaries also connects the Matthean depiction to this OT text.

 

73 B. Levine, Numbers 21-36 (NY: Doubleday, 2000), 431.

 

74 Ibid., 432.

 

75 Brown makes the following comment in his notes; “legal father is a better designation than foster father or adoptive father. Joseph does not adopt someone else’s son as his own; he acknowledges his wife’s child as his legitimate son, using the same formula by which other Jewish fathers acknowledged their legitimate children”.

 

76 Brown, Messiah, 138.

 

77 R.E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (NY:Paulist, 1973), 39.

 

78 M. Pamment, “Singleness and Matthew’s Attitude to the Torah”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament #17 (1983), 80.

 

79 F. Moloney, “Matthew 19:3-12 and Celibacy: A Redactional and Form Critical Study”, Journal for the Study of the New Testament #2 (1979), 42.

 

80 Ibid., 46.

 

81 Moloney, 48.

 

82 Ibid., 49.

 

83 H. Kvalbein, “The Kingdom of God in the Ethics of Jesus”, Communio Viatorum 40 #3 (1998), 200.

 

84 Ibid., 215.

 

85 Ibid., 227.

 

86 B. Wiebe, “Messianic Ethics: Response to the Kingdom of God”, Interpretation 45 #1 (1991), 35.

 

87 Ibid., 41.

 

88 J. Bright, The Kingdom of God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1953), 18.

 

89 Ibid., 210.

 

90 Ibid., 223.

 

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Father Juniper Benjamin Carol, O.F.M., S.T.D, (1911-1990), the first President of the Mariological Society of America, was considered by many in his time to be “the most prominent Mariologist in the United States and ranks with the best in the world.” (1) His treatises were many and diverse. (2) Nearly twenty years after his death, Father Carol is respected as a learned theologian whose contribution to Mariology is inarguable. (3)

In this paper, I present the position of Father Carol concerning Mary’s Virginitas in partu. What did this scholar hold as to the existence of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s virginity during the Birth of her Divine Son?

Read more: Mary’s Virginity During the Birth of Jesus According to Fr. Juniper B. Carol

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The following article is an excerpt from the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion. The book is now available from Queenship Publications. To obtain a copy, visit queenship.org. Visit books.google.com and search on “Mariology: A Guide” to view the book in its entirety, or simply click here.
Asst. Ed
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The mystery of the Incarnation is inseparable in the eternal plans of God from the virginal conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While God could have brought about the enfleshment of the Word in any way that he chose, he concretely willed that the Word should become flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine). This fact transmitted to us in the gospels of St. Luke (1:26-38) and St. John (1:14) has been an integral part of the Church’s creed from the earliest days of her existence (1), and was solemnly ratified by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 to express, within the limits of human language, the mystery which the Church received, believes and transmits about the Incarnation of the Son of God (2). It is the Catholic Church’s perennial belief in the three facets of this mystery which immediately touch upon the role of Our Lady that is the specific object of this study: the fact that she was a virgin before (ante partum), during (in partu) and after the birth of Christ (post partum). The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this truth succinctly by stating that “The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man” (3).

[...]

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Matchless Maidenhood

Published on December 13, 2008 by in General Mariology

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From the beginning, the Church has confessed, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, that the only Son of God was ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.’ At the Council of the Lateran in 649, she taught that ‘at the end of the ages’ the Mother of God "conceived without seed by the Holy Spirit God the Word, who was begotten of God the Father before all ages" (1). This is the fact prophesied by Isaiah and reported by St. Matthew and St. Luke:

Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel (Is 7:14).

When Mary His Mother was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child by the Holy Ghost (Mt 1:18).

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee (Lk 1:35).


[...]

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In the study of law one of the most important subjects is evidence. One of the reasons why so few have arrived at a truth in which they believe absolutely is that they have forgotten the importance of proof. Evidence is one of the important divisions of theology. No belief can be accepted without proof or a “motive of credibility.” One might say that the greatest skeptics are the Christians, for they will not believe in the Resurrection until they see the crucified and dead Man arise from the grave by the Power of God Himself. One could take any doctrine of Christianity as an example of proof and of evidence, but we will take one that the modern world has rejected for the last three hundred years (after believing in it for the first sixteen hundred years), namely, the virgin birth of Jesus from His Mother, Mary, who is a virgin.

Before adducing our evidence, it is important to realize that the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, does not derive her belief from the Scriptures alone. This will come as a surprise to those who, whenever they hear of a particular Christian teaching, ask: “Is it in the Bible?” The Church was spread throughout the entire Roman Empire before a single book of the New Testament was written. There were already many martyrs in the Church before there were either Gospels or Epistles. An authoritative and recognized ministry was carrying on the Lord’s work at His command, speaking in His name as witnesses of what they had seen, before anyone decided to write a single line of the New Testament. [...]

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In light of the recent motion picture, The Nativity, in which Mary is viewed as having labor pains during birth, the issue of the miraculous and painless birth of Jesus has once again been raised. Our Lady’s virginity during the birth is an essential part of the dogmatic pronouncement of Pope Martin I in 649 A.D., and has always been understood in the Church as it was understood by the Fathers’ famous image, “As light passes through glass without harming the glass, so too Jesus left the womb of Mary in a miraculous manner without any opening of the womb and without any physical violation of her virginity.” The Catechism of the Council of Trent also confirms that Mary gave birth without labor pains, as labor pains were the effect of the Fall, and the sinless Virgin would not suffer any effects of original sin. – Ed.

The second dogma regarding the Blessed Virgin is the dogma of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. This defined truth received generally unanimous acceptance among the early Church Fathers and was confirmed by papal and conciliar definitions.

The dogma of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity proclaims that the Blessed Virgin Mary was always a virgin, before, during, and after the birth of Jesus Christ. This threefold character of Mary’s virginity was declared in the definition of Pope St. Martin I at the Lateran Synod in 649 A.D., where he pronounced as an article of faith that:

The blessed ever-virginal and immaculate Mary conceived, without seed, by the Holy Spirit, and without loss of integrity brought Him forth, and after His birth preserved her virginity inviolate. (1) [...]

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Not only is Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity a solemn dogma of the Catholic Church, but it was also a position defended by the major Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. “Fr. Mateo” (a pen name for a Catholic priest who is an emeritus professor of New Testament Greek) presents an outstanding apologetic defense of Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity, with a particular emphasis on its biblical foundations. Fr. Mateo responds to the erroneous attacks of CRI, or the Christian Research Institute, an Evangelical ministry headquartered in southern California, which specializes in attacking Catholic, and particularly Marian, doctrines. – Ed.

By Mary’s perpetual virginity we mean that she was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of her Son and for the rest of her life. CRI notes that this doctrine was “a subject of intense debate as late as the fourth century.” (1) It alleges that “belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity eventually won out thanks to the rise of asceticism and monasticism.” (2)

CRI is in error here. There is no evidence whatever for this opinion. Anthologies of patristic spirituality prove that Jesus Christ, not Mary, was the ideal of virginity held up to monks and nuns from the beginning. John Cassian in his treatise On the Eight Vices (A.D. 425) writes, “If we are really eager … to struggle lawfully and to be crowned (2 Tim. 2:5) for overcoming the impure spirit of un-chastity, we should not trust in our own strength, but in the help of our Master, God.” The earliest accounts of monks and their lifestyle—like Athanasius’ life of Anthony and Benedict’s rule—give us Jesus, not Mary, as the monastic exemplar. It is the same with religious rules in later centuries. For example, the Thirty-First Congregation of the Jesuit Order (1965) declares, “The profession of chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven . . . shows wonderfully at work in the Church the surpassing greatness of the force of Christ the King and the boundless power of the Holy Spirit.” (3) Certainly, Mary is important to all Catholics and in particular to those “who follow the Lamb wherever he goes, for they are virgins” (Rev. 14:4). It is ironic that, in its zeal to attack our Lady, CRI gives her more credit as a spark plug for monasticism than Catholics do.

CRI confuses things further by raising a triad of questions which are irrelevant to the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity: [...]

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From the beginning, the Church has confessed, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, that the only Son of God was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” At the Council of the Lateran in 649, she taught that “at the end of the ages” the Mother of God “conceived without seed by the Holy Spirit God the Word, who was begotten of God the Father before all ages.” (1) This is the fact prophesied by Isaiah and reported by St Matthew and St Luke:

Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel (Is 7:14).

When Mary His Mother was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child by the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18).

The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee (Lk 1:35).

The Virgin conceives not by male seed but by the Holy Spirit. (2) “Mankind’s only Lover,” says St John Damascene, “was conceived in the immaculate womb of the Virgin, not by will or desire, not by congress with a man or generation joined with pleasure, but by the Holy Spirit.” (3) [...]

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II. The Patristic Tradition Concerning Mary’s Virginity

Even at this early period, belief in the virginal conception of Christ was proposed as an article of faith by St. Irenaeus, (121) and, most probably, before him by St. Justin (122) and Aristides. (123) Justin and Irenaeus even undertake the justification of this belief by speculative considerations, notably by the Eve-Mary parallel. (124) It is true that Justin’s development of this parallel is not extremely well fashioned. Irenaeus, on the contrary, handles it with a much more highly developed theological sense, as the following example shows:

It was because of the disobedience of a virgin that man was struck down, and after his fall became subject to death. Similarly, due to the obedience of a virgin to the command of God, man was reborn unto the warmth of life. Man is the lost sheep whom the Lord came to search out here below; and this is the precise reason why He became man only through her who was a descendant of Adam, and He thus preserved the resemblance with the race of Adam. It was then just and necessary that Adam should be restored in Christ, in order that what was mortal might be absorbed and grafted onto immortality, and that Eve should be restored in Mary, that a Virgin might become the advocate of a virgin, the disobedience of the one being blotted out and destroyed by the obedience of another. (125) [...]

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Our Blessed Lady’s virginity is intimately connected with her sublime prerogative as Mother of God. Indeed, as St. Bernard so forcefully pointed out, Mary’s motherhood is gloriously singular and unique precisely because it is virginal. (1)

Far from being merely a passing prerogative, Mary’s virginity was and is everlasting, pervading every stage of her life, and particularly the sacred moments in which she became the Mother of God in Nazareth and brought Him forth in the cave of Bethlehem. The dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity means precisely this: 1. that she conceived the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, virginally; 2. gave birth to Him virginally; 3. remained a virgin throughout her earthly life, and, consequently, now and forever reigns gloriously as the Virgin of Virgins, Queen of Heaven.

The Catholic Church, the faithful spouse of her Son, has expressed this truth in the striking formula that Mary was a virgin “ante partum, in partu, et post partum,” i.e., before the birth, in the birth, and after the birth of Christ. This affirmation is not a mere pious sentiment; it expresses the universal and unanimous belief of Christ’s Church; it is a revealed truth; it is a solemnly defined dogma. The Lateran Council, held under Pope St. Martin I in the year 649, in its third canon, defined: [...]

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II. The Essence of the Divine Motherhood

Thus far we have only made a beginning in our study of the divine motherhood. We have seen that both Scripture (at least implicitly) and Tradition teach that Mary is truly the Mother of God, and that this doctrine has been the object of the infallible teaching authority of the Church for over 1500 years. But if we are to understand more fully why the divine motherhood is the greatest dignity that can be conferred on a created person, why it is Mary’s greatest privilege, and the reason for all her other privileges, (54) then it is necessary to probe more deeply into the nature of the divine motherhood in order to determine its very essence.

Here we are at the very heart of Mariology. For… the divine motherhood is the basic principle of Mariology. If a principle is to be used with the precision demanded by science, its essential content must be clearly determined. But, surprising as it may seem, not all theologians agree on what constitutes the essence of the divine motherhood. [...]

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“My soul is glorifying the Lord and my spirit rejoicing in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:46). With this antiphon Our Blessed Mother herself began an everlasting hymn of praise to the Majesty of God for the wondrous mystery of divine motherhood which God had worked in her. Each succeeding generation has added its voice to the chorus according to Mary’s prophecy, to glorify the divine goodness “whose mercy is from generation to generation” (Lk. 1:50). In making Mary His Mother, God has poured forth on her all the treasures which His loving omnipotence could confer on a person who is not God Himself. Because Mary is God’s Mother, she stands next to her divine Son, at the summit of creation, above the angels and saints, having within her the very fullness of divine grace and purity and holiness. As Pius XII wrote in his encyclical Fulgens Corona, “A higher office than this (the divine motherhood) does not seem possible; since it requires the greatest dignity and sanctity after Christ, it demands the fullest perfection of divine grace and a soul free from every sin. Indeed, all the privileges and graces with which her soul and her life were endowed in so extraordinary a manner and measure, seem to flow from this sublime vocation of Mother of God, as from a pure and hidden source.” (1)

The divine motherhood is not only Mary’s greatest privilege, but it is the key to the understanding of all her other privileges. Not only does this truth hold the primacy in Mariology, but it is so intimately connected with the whole economy of salvation in Christ that for the past 1500 years the recognition of Mary as Mother of God has been a touchstone of Christian orthodoxy. For if Mary is not truly the Mother of God, then her Son, Christ Our Redeemer, is not true God as well as true man; moreover, His salvific work for the Redemption of mankind would be nothing more than vapid imaginings of a restoration that had never taken place.

In one brief article it is obviously impossible to treat adequately of this great privilege of Mary which seems to exploit the very omnipotence of God Himself. (2) We shall limit ourselves here to the following points: 1. the revealed fact of the divine motherhood in Scripture, Tradition, and history: 2. an attempt at delineating the essence of the divine motherhood; 3. some reflections on the relationship of Mary’s motherhood to her other privileges. [...]

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The Fifth Ecumenical Council, Constantinople II (553), calls our Lady aeiparthenos, semper virgo, “ever-virgin,” the title with which she is acclaimed in the liturgies of both East and West. (1) According to the teaching of the Church, after conceiving and giving birth as a virgin, the Mother of God remained for ever a virgin. Her marriage to St. Joseph was a true one, endowed with all the goods of marriage, but it was never consummated. She and her spouse most chaste lived together in perfect and perpetual continence. The so-called brethren of the Lord mentioned in the Gospels are, therefore, not the physical children of Mary and Joseph but close relatives from the extended family. In the early centuries, the perpetual virginity of our Lady was denied by such heretics as Jovinian, Helvidius and the so-called Antidicomarianites and defended with chivalrous zeal by, among others, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome and St. Augustine. In 1555 Pope Paul IV condemned the denial of the perpetual virginity by rationalistic Protestants. (2)

One of the signs of the perpetual virginity of our Lady in Scripture is our Lord’s entrusting of His Mother to the care of St. John. From Origen onwards, Catholic exegetes have argued that this shows that, after the death of Joseph, there was no one else within the immediate family to look after Mary, and that she therefore conceived no child but Jesus. (3) In the Tradition of the Church, from the earliest days, our Lady has been called “the Virgin,” suggesting that virginity was her defining attribute and permanent state. At the beginning of the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch presents the virginity of Mary as an indispensable truth of the Faith, a deep mystery that eludes the grasp of the devil’s mind, “to be cried aloud” but “hidden from the prince of this world.” (4) [...]

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During Mass each Sunday, Holy Day of Obligation and Solemnity we recite the Nicene Creed, praying: “by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary.” Notice “born of the Virgin Mary” (which also exists in the Apostles’ Creed used when praying the Rosary). What we profess has great significance.

We confess: Mary remained a virgin, “born of the Virgin Mary,” even in the process of giving birth! [...]

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The theology of the body as taught by Pope John Paul II during the Wednesday audiences from September 5, 1979 to November 28, 1984 is becoming more and more acclaimed as a revolutionary approach to understanding the embodiedness of human persons. (1) In offering to the Church and the world a catechesis of the body, a theology of the body, John Paul II proved himself a true shepherd by responding to the twentieth century scandalum carnis. There can be no doubt that the body was perceived as an enigma by much of twentieth century thought. For example, Caryll Houselander, fully aware of the twentieth century infatuation with the body, wrote in 1944: “There has surely never been an age in which so many people were so particularly preoccupied with their bodies as this age, and yet to so little profit.” (2) For this reason, the theology of the body as taught by John Paul II is a theological response, in the form of a theological anthropology based in Divine Revelation, to the modern quest to understand the origin, meaning and destiny of the human body. (3)

Part of the reason for why this aspect of revelation—God’s knowledge shared with us concerning the human body—lay dormant for so many centuries is because the twentieth century, perhaps unlike any century in human history, with all of its technological advances, came to view the human body as a mere instrument to be used in the never ending quest for self-gratification and pleasure. For example, one has only to think of the various types of sins—all bodily sins—that became commonplace, many even becoming legal, during the twentieth century: abortion, euthanasia, pornography, prostitution, drugs, wars, suicide, terrorism, homosexual acts, adultery, contraception, concentration camps, genocide, sex changes, cloning, and the list goes on and on. Some philosophers have even ventured to label the current era in history the “post-human” era. Thus, a theology of the body could not have come at a more apropos epoch in history. God has saved a great treasure for our times. [...]

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Following Our Lady’s apparitions in Fatima, she revealed to Sister Lucia five offenses that most wound her Immaculate Heart. Although reparation for these can only be made with acts of love from our hearts, Catholics should be able to intellectually defend her honor as well.

Each of the offenses against Mary wound her heart not because her reputation is questioned, but because God’s work in her is doubted. One such offense is the claim that she was not a life-long virgin. Not only does this imply a rejection of the miraculous virgin birth, it is also an offense to the Holy Spirit and a dishonor to Joseph, her “most chaste spouse.” [...]

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