Jessica’s post yesterday about the Blessed Virgin prompted a flurry of comments, two of which I want to deal with here: one of them concerns the so-called brothers and sisters of Jesus; the other is to do with the perpetual virginity of Mary.
I have said all I need to say here on the brothers and sisters of Jesus, and recommend Joseph Richardson’s excellent account on The Lonely Pilgrim, here. Rob asks how one can reconcile the belief in Our Lady’s perpetual virginity with the passage in Matthew 1:23-24:
Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.And he called His name Jesus.
So, on the basis that ‘did not know her till’ we are to discount the teaching of the Fathers and the belief of both the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches for as far back as records run; indeed, on the basis of that English phrase, we are to believe that the Church which canonised the Bible and taught the perpetual virginity had never read its own book and noticed the discrepancy? Perhaps if the ancient church had had an English Bible they would have noticed and not been in ignorance for 1500 years and more? Well, that might be an explanation which appeals to those who think that Luther and Calvin also got it wrong (again, no English Bible), but before coming to such a conclusion, we might examine things a bit more carefully.
The Greek original, “eos”, indicates the true meaning, of “he had no sexual relations with her prior to her giving birth.” The Evangelist makes this statement in order to assure us that Joseph had no part in the conception of Jesus. The term eos ou does not require the understanding that he had relations with her after Christ was born. It merely indicates that, as regards the birth of Jesus, Joseph had not had relations with Mary prior to the birth, thus, he was not the father of Jesus. This is merely a usual turn of phrase, the use of a standard and familiar form of expression. Those who wish to argue that Matthew 13:55-46:
Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?”
proves their case have a problem. They are not, I take it, arguing that we should take literally the statement that Jesus is the carpenter’s son? Why not? Because we know from Scripture He was not. The verses recount what is being said by the locals not what we are required to believe exactly; as the accounts I cited about the ‘brothers and sisters’ show, that, too is not the literal case.
If we return to the phrase ’till’, while there are examples of the Greek words being used to show that it means that after that point, something else happened, there are examples which point the other way. At 2 Samuel 6:23, for instance, we read, “And Milchal, the daughter of Saul, had no child until [eos] her death.” Are we meant to read from that that she had children after she died? Well, why then assume that in the case of Joseph and Mary it means something which runs counter to the belief of the Church through the ages?Joseph At Genesis 8:7, we read that Noah “sent forth a raven; and it went forth and did not return till [eos] after the water had gone from off the face of the earth.” We know from Scripture that in fact, the raven never returned to the ark. It says that it did not return “until after,” but in fact, it never returned at all. The Scripture says that “Joseph knew her not till after…”, but in fact, he never “knew” her at all. In another example, the Bible says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until [eos] I make Thine enemies Thy footstool” (Mark 12:36). Does this mean that Christ will cease to sit at the right hand of the glory of the Father once His enemies have been overcome? Hardly. The Matthean verses refer to the fact that Jesus was not the son of Joseph – whatever the crowd in Matthew 13 thought.
This has been believed by the Fathers, is believed by the Orthodox and the Catholics and others, and has been from the beginning. I suppose one could rely on one’s own reading of the word ’till’, but if one prefers one’s own reading to that of Christian tradition, then one will. The Holy of Holies was a sacred space which none by the High Priest could penetrate, and Our Lady’s womb was the place where the Word Incarnate rested for none months. It might be that there are those who imagine that despite St Joseph being called ‘righteous’ (which has a particular meaning in Hewish tradition), and despite he and Our Lady being aware of who their son was, they felt the need for sexual activity; such have no understanding of the Sacred. What man, knowing his wife had been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and had given birth to the Saviour of the World, would insist on sexual intercourse; the mind which can conceive that, cannot, I suspect, conceive how those sensitive to the Sacred act.