I have a new partial post up at the Episcopal Cafe. This one is on the Blessed Virgin and, specifically, the arguments around the word “virgin.” The way Jim divided the piece, today’s chunk focuses on the virgin birth of Jesus which means tomorrow or—more likely—Wednesday’s section will deal with the issue of the perpetual virginity of Mary, the arguments over whether Mary had more children after Jesus. If today’s seems a little skimpy, that’s because the heart of the discussion and the pay-off is located at the end of the next chunk.
I must admit, I never really considered the matter overmuch, but you’ve caused me to do some digging.
As some folk have pointed out in the comments, the greek word used in the scriptures, παρθένον, is used in contemporary greek literature to describe a young girl, a maiden…but not solely one who has not known the touch of a man. This tracks with the Septuagint translation of Isaiah which is quoted in Matthew. The more technical matter is that, as long as a women’s hymen had not been broken, she was (and is) rabbinically considered a virgin. As this is possible (and common enough that it is rabbinically recognized) for mortal men to do, the idea that the Divine could do so is trivial.
Additionally and more importantly, both Matthew and Luke highlight that Mary had not ‘known’ a man whist she was betrothed to Joseph, which would have been a stoning offense. To my eyes, what is important in the tale is that, despite the unusual circumstances of conception, Mary is an upright woman in her time and culture and Joseph supports and acknowledges this.
To jump ahead a bit to the ‘perpetual virgin’ part, I think the key verse is Mat. 1:25 ( καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.) and he did not know her until she bore him a son, who he called his name Jesus
This would all but explicitly state that after Jesus’ birth, Joseph DID ‘know’ her.
You know Derek, “the Blessed Mother” is a very traditional Catholic name for Mary. That is what both of my grandmothers always called her, almost exclusively. They never included Virgin but they wouldn’t have argued with her perpetual virginity either. I’m just saying it wasn’t always deemed necessary to include Virgin in her title. There would be nothing wrong with calling her Mary the Blessed Mother.
Well, the comments on the article are certainly interesting. And they quickly get to the heart of the doctrinal unraveling that’s occurring in many churches today. For my own part, I can’t see the point. The pithy sayings of a long-dead carpenter from Roman-occupied Palestine are perhaps interesting as a historical curiosity, but nothing more. I certainly wouldn’t want to base my life on what he said, did, or recommended for others.
Interested to see where the second part goes! For me, the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity is…er…a non-issue. I think it is appropriate to call her Virgin even if Joseph “knew” her. Virginity is more than physical, I think–in a very real sense, it describes a particular kind of relationship with the world and the flesh, and not so much about whether or not one has had sex. It is the attitude that St. James describes in his epistle when he states that true religion is remaining “unspotted from the world.”
The comments over at the Cafe show the poverty of post-modern thought.
John, who do you think is being post-modern there? I don’t think it’s Lionel Deimel.
Murdoch Matthew is a prime example of why most post-modernism is, in the end, modernist materialism with a nasty anti-intellectual streak.
In some sense my view can be considered post-modern. That is, if modernity is the school of thought that believes that there is one-and-only-one objective truth (and that’s one way it can be defined), then I’m arguing against it. I recognize the validity of scientific truth, poetic truth, and theological truth. These are measured in different ways and are generally applied to different things but in cases of intermixture, it’s a negotiation.
Some would call that being post-modern. I just think it makes sense…
Come to think of it, I’ve already written this out in my two posts on the Creeds from the very beginning of the blog. Here they are for those who weren’t reading me five years ago (!): The Creeds I; The Creeds II.
The term it’s self is, in the end, pretty much useless. What I tend to mean is the formless, almost solopolistic form of knowing. I have precious little patience for the anti-historical and nonfoundationalist forms of post-modernism.
Now wait a minute, there were some thoroughly non-skeptical but like Derek expanded views on the matter expressed at the Cafe.
I am, by nature, a grumpy kinda guy. Many of the responses were not “skeptical” but I did see many that were a form of skepticism that I have little patience for. The “cultured despisers” get my hackles up, same with those who want to appease them.
Time for a cup half full then–and this coming from the neuralgically depressive. While I can literally affirm the Virgin Birth, I know our tradition allows for latitude, and sometimes it is because of that latitude that folks, say William Temple, come to a deeper understanding of the creedal commitments. For me, the Virgin Birth is the obvious relation to the Incarnation, but not all see that and I can live with the fudge.
I recall encountering these ‘modern’ ideas about the BVM shortly after coming back to the Episcopal Church, and feeling profoundly shocked.
I subscribed to both of Derek’s premises ~ Mary was virginal at Christ’s conception ~ and ~ remained so for the rest of her life. I still do. But then I consider myself a “recovering Orthodox Christian”, who happens to worship in a TEC parish.
For all the freedom of conscience in TEC, must EVERY boundary be pushed aside?
Derek: I largely agree with the thrust of your post, but I’m less sure about your view, expressed in the comments, that the truth of the Incarnation hinges on the Virgin Birth. It seems to suggest that the hypostatic union could only take place by means of a virginal birth. Could you expand on why you think that’s the case?
(Looking forward to part II!)
Derek, I took a look at your “Creeds II” post, and I must say that I’ve had pretty much the same reaction to Bultmann’s declarations: “well, I certainly can!” And I further think there’s an element of dishonesty in the claim, because for example one can find medieval images of Christ the geometer which don’t fit the three story model either.
As I said in my last reply in the EC thread, it seems to me that the subtext, or perhaps the defining metaphysic, of the doubters is that doubt is beyond challenge and has to be accepted as axiomatic. I particularly note this in the case of Clint Davis’s response because it seems rather likely that his doubts find grounding in some serious personal issues with authority.
Derek, it seems like part two has really opened up the flood gates of “progressive” bigotry.
I had a feeling that part II might provoke some interesting reactions. My only goal is to put out there a traditional understanding and how I find it helpful. I’m not necessarily expecting to persuade anyone, I’m simply presenting how I look at it. I’m well aware that there are other options out there and I have no problem with those who disagree. As I said—it’s a non-essential point.
From the tone of the reactions, though, you’d think something completely otherwise.
Part of the issue, I believe is that I’m writing from my situation, from my context, from my generation. The challenges, dogmas, sacred cows, and golden calves that I see and struggle against are not the same as some of our baby-boomer leaders. They fought to shift a pendulum. The pendulum again needs a course correction and they I fear that I(and those like me) seek only to undo their work. I can see why, of course, but in their zeal to re-fight their old battles they risk completely missing the new point…
All to often there is no room for a “new point.”
“If today’s seems a little skimpy, that’s because the heart of the discussion and the pay-off is located at the end of the next chunk.”I can completely relate to that in every imaginable way.
Derek, I considered this at the Cafe, but I wonder in not expanding Virginity fully if you have left the Ever-Virgin without adequate address to all. Incarnational doctrines, and I think this can be argued as one as it relates to us and the work of the Holy Spirit, address all humanity.
For me, the Ever-Virgin’s perpetual virginity is sign to us in the flesh of the call of all of us to singleness of heart, that is, chastity (which is more than genital expression or lack thereof though not without discipline in this area).
As to the actual post in question, I tend to think that the question of Mary’s perpetual virginity is none of my busyness. It’s something between her, Joseph and the Father.
I’m not sure which bothers me more: the definition of faith text as having nothing to do with faith, or the definition of doctrine as being opposed to event.