There are four important theological revelations about Mary the mother of Jesus. She was immaculately conceived, she is the mother of God (Theotokos), she bore God’s son as a virgin while remaining a virgin throughout the rest of her life and Mary was assumed into heaven, bodily. Let’s narrow our discussion on the virgin birth for now and how it affects us in making our world a better place to live.
The Nicene Creed, states that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. We are giving some evidence for this to help eliminate a current minimalist view about Mary’s role in our redemption and simultaneously offer another reason why Jesus was more than just a man, or carpenter’s son, or religious leader like any other of the world’s founding religious leaders. The short answer is that if Jesus is like any other founding religious leader today we would be still in need of a savior and as St. Paul stated we are still dead to our sins and to be most pitied.
In order to understand the proof of Mary’s virginity we must understand that the gospels did not precede the church. Rather it was the church that preceded the gospels recorded from the tradition of the early Christians. Early Christians already accepted the miracles of the loaves and fishes, the resurrection of Christ and of course the virgin birth of Mary.
The gospel writer Luke, a physician would certainly doubt the virgin birth of Jesus. It is the medical doctor that sets down the teaching that there was a virgin birth. Did Mary remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus? There is no place in any of the gospels that Mary and Joseph had other sons and daughters. Jesus did have blood relatives and cousins. When we come to James the brother of Jesus we know that James was the son of another father namely, Alphaeus. That is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Now we come to other proofs for the virgin birth from the Gospel of St. John and the writing of St. Paul. St. John assumes the virgin birth. In his first chapter he says that there is a birth that is neither of blood nor of sex nor of the human will but solely by the power of God. This saying by John assumes a common understanding of the virgin birth.
The elements of sex, blood and human will are eliminated in the story of the birth of Jesus. Mary tells Gabriel that she does not know a man. God says that the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow her. Christians could not understand the spiritual birth found in John 3:1-21 with Jesus discussion with Nicodemus unless they understood the virgin birth. Therefore it already happened. People already knew by the time the Gospel of John was written that the whole Christian world came into being through a virgin birth. The virgin birth is God’s idea not man’s.
St. Paul also assumes the virgin birth. The epistles were written in Greek. When St. Paul speaks of the birth of our Blessed Lord he uses a specific Greek term in Galatians,” Then God sent out his son on a mission to us—He took birth from a woman” to make us sons by adoption. St. Paul never uses the ordinary word for a human birth which is the conjunction of a man and a woman is the common word in Greek “Gennao” that means a birth like you and I have. St. Paul uses “ginomai” for the birth of our Lord, to come into existence or to become. In Gal.. 4:23, 24 and 29 to be born St. Paul uses the term “gennao” referring to the birth of Ismael and the birth of Jacob. But when he comes to the birth of our Lord he refuses to use that word. He uses another word “ginomai” because the birth of our Lord comes from a virgin. Our Lord was born into the Human race but was not born of it.
We also find a proto-evangelical verse in the Book of Genesis alluding to the virgin birth and the Immaculate Conception. In Genesis 3:15 God curses the serpent and says to it that a woman’s seed will be in enmity with the devil’s seed. Now a woman does not have a seed but a man does. This passage and in particular the word “enmity” is one of the basis for the teaching of the Immaculate Conception we celebrate on Dec. 8th that at no time was Mary in cooperation with the devil and sin including at her conception from her parents Joachim and Ann. Further proof for the teaching of the Immaculate Conception is beyond the focus of this discussion.
The teaching about Mary’s perpetual virginity is not just for us Catholics, our Church Fathers defended Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. St. Athanasius, who is highly respected by non-Catholic Christians, doctor of the Incarnation who led the fight against Arianism calls in his Discourses Against the Arians, Mary “Ever-Virgin. St. Jerome wrote on the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Against Helvidius. And both St. Augustine and St. Ambrose strongly defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Augustine calls her, “A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual.”
There a few good reasons for the importance of a virgin birth. The reason we believe in a virgin birth is because God wanted someone very good and pure to bring him into this world. Man’s seed was contaminated with Original Sin of Adam and Eve. When we say Mary is pure we mean she is without sin. The opposite of sin is not goodness. The opposite of sin is Faith. Mary’s purity means in her faith she was totally focused on God’s Will and not hers. Purity means that there is no conflict in mind, body and spirit in total cooperation with God’s purposes. In giving God a man, Mary had all the privileges and responsibility of mother hood but not the pleasure of human intercourse that precedes motherhood. Thus she could not have any conflict of interests except to bare the Son of God and giving Him a human nature. Her perpetual virginity means that for the rest of her life she was dedicated to Jesus and his mission. The foundation of Mary’s dedicated virginity is the Immaculate Conception.
The Immaculate Conception states Mary was born without sin. Mary serves as a biblical type, the New Testament Ark of the Covenant between sinful humanity and sinless humanity. Just as the Old Testament Ark was to provide for the presence of God, that ark was to be made of the most precious materials and handled by only designate priestly leaders from a particular tribe of Levites. Mary our New Testament Ark was to hold God him-self within her and she could only be touched by the God Himself, the Holy Spirit. Later Jesus instituted the New Testament priesthood to consecrate the elements of bread and wine into His body and blood. It is only these designated priests that are allowed to do so because Jesus commanded it.
How could God become man and yet be sinless so that he could take on our sins? Jesus our Lord had to be a perfect man but not a sinful man. At the same time He is 100% God and through Mary 100% man. He had to be outside of that terrible trend of sin that has passed on and infected all humanity since the Garden of Eden. Our Lord had to be sinless so he too would not need redemption. Now the new Ark of The Covenant and promise by God in the book of Genesis, that lifted our Lord out of that sinfulness of humanity and made him the sinless man the new head of the human race was the virgin birth! In a sense Mary is the ciborium that first held the precious body and blood of our Blessed Lord.
So how is a virgin birth applicable to any of us? The better question is what does it mean for you or I to be full of grace as the angel Gabrielle announces to Mary? Virginity and purity go hand in hand with being filled with grace. How are we virgin in mind body and spirit from all sin? How focused are we on God’s purposes and not our own? Just as in biotech there are clean rooms devoid of any pollutants in producing life healing medicines, Mary’s sinlessness through the Immaculate Conception and her perpetual virginity provides the healing, Jesus Christ pure man and God for our eternal good health.
The Church endows Mary with various titles that to the attuned can find them applicable to our personal walk with God. What does it mean for you and I to emulate any of the titles that are applicable to Mary: Holy Tabernacle of Christ, Mother of Good Counsel, Vessel of Honor, Health of the sick, Refuge of Sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, Mirror of Justice, Tower of David, Mother most pure….When we too become full of grace consider how our lives in the home, any of our churches, places of work and our national citizenry will fill others with the light of Christ and God’s grace. In our nightly prayers and examination of conscience ask how we are a pure and virgin vessels for God to use us? We were made in the image of God. Mary shows us how to be a life totally surrendered to God. Her good counsel from her Immaculate Conception through her Assumption and as our mother given to us through John at Calvary is for us to follow with purity of purpose the Will of God.
When we consecrate our humanity we lift it for the work of God on earth so that when we are heavenly bound we are even more earthly good. Consider if all of us consecrated ourselves to God and we were virgins to all sin how much our own world would be a paradise. Let’s begin with each of us first to become perpetual virgins from sin! Besides over the years I have learned it is not such a good thing to upset any Jewish mother much less Mary when she can be of great help assistance on our pilgrimage with God.