Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Does it really matter if Mary is "ever virgin"?

As we now draw closer and closer to celebrate our Lord's Nativity in the flesh for us and for our salvation, as many Christians go to church services tomorrow and on the feast itself, most of them will invariably hear from the Gospels that the Man-God Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. There can be no disputing that this is what happened. However, there always seem to arise questions regarding Mary's virginity or possible lack thereof following the birth of her son. Catholics and Orthodox as well as some Lutherans (since Mary is called ever-virgin in the Book of Concord to which Lutherans must make quia subscription as the faithful and correct exposition of their dogma) and even some High Church Anglicans do not doubt that Mary was ever virgin (semper virgo) but such a thought today is considered absolutely ludicrous because what sane person would pass up on the opportunity for sex? So, does Mary's ever-virgin title as given to her by the Orthodox and Catholics really matter? Why do we make such a big deal about it?

I think that even in the time of St. Basil the Great, some of the faithful were making a big deal about it as well. He spoke:

For "he did not know her" - it says - "until she gave birth to a Son, her firstborn." But this could make one suppose that Mary, after having offered in all her purity her own service in giving birth to the Lord, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, did not subsequently refrain from normal conjugal relations. That would not have affected the teaching of our religion at all, because Mary's virginity was necessary until the service of the Incarnation, and what happened afterward need not be investigated in order to affect the doctrine of the mystery. But since the lovers of Christ [that is, the faithful] do not allow themselves to hear that the Mother of God ceased at a given moment to be a virgin, we consider their testimony sufficient
. St. Basil the Great, homily [PG 31, 1468]

St. Basil appears to say that Mary's ever-virgin status and our subscription to it is not necessary for our the faithful to believe. But he does say that the testimony of the faithful in itself is sufficient. Scripture has no words on this exactly (though I do find the explanation given by St. Jerome regarding the garmmar, in particular the Greek word "eos" is convincing enough), but notice that Scripture is NOT what St. Basil appeals to. He appeals to the testimony of the faithful, the lovers of Christ, as St. Basil specifically calls them, as being sufficient in of itself.

St. Vincent of Lerins describes the tenets of the Catholic [Orthodox] faith as that which has been believed, always and everywhere. St. Basil is making the same appeal here, that Mary's ever-virginity is not something to be clawed out with linguistic devices and textual proofs, which most western Christians claim as infallible hermeneutics to defend their often liberal and, frankly, heretical positions. St. Basil is more or less saying, "Sit down and shut up. This is what we believe. Get over yourself."

But does it really matter? I suppose not. I can only imagine that when I am called to make answer before the dread judgement seat of Christ, I am going to be asked to defend my sinfulness and why I should be allowed to partake of the glory of God. I really don't believe that Christ will say that He will let me partake of His glory in eternity only if I believed that His mother was an ever virgin. At least, I hope not.

Many of those who will insist that Mary was intimate with Joseph after Christ's birth, do so to emphasize that Mary was nothing special. Even if you don't believe in the ever-virginity, how can one honestly say that Mary was nothing special? She carried the Logos in her womb, the uncontainable God. How many times do we see, particularly in the Older Testament, that whenever God touches something he created, it burns or it is destroyed? Too many to count. But Mary was unharmed from carrying God, yes, the very God, in herself. "For He made thy womb a throne and more spacious than the heavens" we sing in the Megalynarion of St. Basil the Great. Mary is preserved from all harm that comes when one expects the Creator and created to be in such union together. Hence, that is why Nestorius could not believe that Mary gave birth to God and denied the incarnation. It made no sense to him.

After one has been touched by God, so intimately and so physically, though how can one believe that after such an encounter that Mary would still insist on carnal relations with Joseph? We partake of God mystically, in the Sacraments and, in particular, in the Eucharist. Mary partook of Christ, the Logos constantly for nine months. God was in her. Creation and creator were unified physically, way beyond a mystical or spiritual manner.

In our society today and perhaps for all time, people have viewed sex as a way of completing oneself with someone else. I see nothing wrong with this view provided that it is understood that you should only complete yourself with your spouse. But how can that completion in any way compare to God dwelling within us? I don't know, but I can only imagine.

Thus, Mary was something special. And since she unified in herself both the creator and the created, I don't see why one would partake of earthly pleasures when such an intimacy can only pale as a shadow to the creator's intimacy. But is it necessary for salvation? St. Basil seems to say no, but also dismisses those who would innovate as not being lovers of Christ. He says that those who love Christ would naturally love His mother as ever-virgin. I just think that the arguments of those who deny the ever-virgin have a very specious argument, lack an understanding and humility of just how incomprehensible it is to have creator and created joined together, and, I think have a very negative view of virginity in general especially in this "sexually charged" society of ours.

Arguing about it is pointless, but I foresee no change in the hymnography of the Orthodox Church, especially when we chant the O Monogenes which says:

O only begotten Son and Word of God,
Immortal as you are,
You condescended for our salvation to be incarnate
of the holy Theotokos and ever Virgin Mary,
and without undergoing change You became man,
You were crucified, O Christ God,
and You trampled Death by Your death,
You who are One of the Holy Trinity,
equal in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
Save us.

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