Catholic Apologetics - Dogmas of Our Lady Catholic Apologetics - Dogmas of Our Lady

Lumen Verum Apologetics
The Four Dogmas of the Blessed Virgin Mary
A Defence
by Robert M. Haddad

The Work of God -  Catholic Apologetics

Dogmas of Our Lady

   The four principal dogmas relating to the Blessed Virgin Mary are:

  1. Her title as Mother of God

  2. Her Perpetual Virginity

  3. Her Immaculate Conception

  4. Her Assumption into Heaven


Mother of God

It is often the case that one would hear the title of "Mother of God" as applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary disparaged as "Mariolatry" or blasphemy. Such an attack is normally coupled with the opinion that Catholics give too much honour to the Virgin Mary, and that She is not so important because little is said of Her in Sacred Scripture. What justification, therefore, can there be for such a title?

In the first book of the Old Testament we read the following: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen. 3, 15). This verse, called the "protoevangelion," is the first promise of the redeeming Messiah. The woman in this verse is the Virgin Mary, Her offspring is, of course, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the fact that there is distinct controversy among Biblical scholars as to whether the text should read "she", "he" or "it shall bruise"(or crush), the meaning is the same, as it is through Her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that the Virgin Mary crushes Satan.1

Genesis 3, 15, together with the following passages, form the basis for venerating the Virgin Mary as Mother of God:

"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, His name shall be called Emmanuel (i.e., God with us)" (Is. 7, 14 [Douai]);

"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Is. 9, 6);

"And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women" (St. Luke 1, 28 [Douai]);

"(St. Elizabeth to Our Lady) And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?" (St. Luke 1, 43);

"...for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed" (St. Luke 1, 48);

"...Woman, behold your son...(Son) behold your mother" (St. John 19, 26-27);

"Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail" (Rev. 11, 19). The Ark of the Covenant was a symbolic type of the Virgin Mary. The original Ark was overladen with gold and contained within itself a pot of manna, Aaron's priestly rod, and the two tables of the Ten Commandments (Heb. 9, 4). It was overshadowed by a propitiatory, or mercy seat, upon which God Himself dwelt (the Shekinah) between two statues of Cherubim (Exod. 25). It was forbidden for anyone to touch the Ark on pain of death. The Virgin Mary, in comparison, was a greater Ark, being a human creature immaculately conceived who carried within Her womb not simply the symbols of Christ, but Christ Himself. God, likewise, overshadowed Her, when the Holy Spirit conceived Christ within Her. Being a perpetual virgin, no one could, or did, "touch" Her. Joshua prostrated himself and venerated the Ark for hours (Josh. 7, 6). As "Joshua" means "Jesus" we have a type of Jesus venerating a type of Mary. Applying this to the New Testament figures themselves, it symbolically represents Jesus Christ paying veneration to His Mother.2

"A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Rev. 12, 1);

"And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne" (Rev. 12, 5);

"Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12, 17).

The Church distinguishes clearly between dulia, or "the homage of veneration," and latria, which signifies "the worship of adoration." Veneration is paid to the Saints; a higher form of it, called hyperdulia, is given to the Virgin Mary; but adoration is given only to God. Any attempt to give adoration to a creature would certainly be idolatrous - but the Catholic Church has never given it. She adores God and God alone.

Most Protestants abhor the title of "Mother of God" because to them it insinuates that Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary existed before God, and that God only came into existence after being born from Her. Such, of course, is an absurdity. In fact, the term "Mother of God" was defined by the Council of Ephesus (431 AD) in response to the Christological controversy ignited by Nestorius, then Patriarch of Constantinople. Nestorius asserted that in Christ there existed not one divine Person with two natures, human and divine, but two Persons, one human and one divine, with two natures, human and divine. Further, these two persons were not hypostatically united, but separate, the human being insignificant compared to the divine. Consequently, the Virgin Mary, as She supplied only Christ’s human flesh and not His divinity, was only mother of Christ’s humanity and therefore in no sense could be called Mother of God. The Church, upholding that Christ was one divine Person only, and noting that Mary was the mother of this divine Person (St. John 19, 25), defined dogmatically that She could properly be called "Mother of God":

"If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel is in truth God, and that the Holy Virgin is Mother of God, because she bore according to the flesh of the Word of God when He became flesh: let him be anathema."3

St. Cyril of Alexandria would continue defending of the title "Mother of God" in the years after Ephesus:

"The Word, then, was God, and He became also Man; and since He was born according to the flesh for the sake of mankind, it is necessary that she who bore Him is the Mother of God. For if she did not bear God, neither is He that was born of her to be called God. If the divinely inspired Scriptures name Him God, as God having been made man and incarnate, He could not become Man in any other way than through birth from a woman: how then should she who bore Him not be the Mother of God?"4

For the past fifteen centuries the Church has steadfastly continued to bestow the title "Mother of God" upon the Virgin Mary:

"Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will. Then began the fulfillment of the splendid promise made by God to Abraham, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should one day be blessed; for Mary, whom we truly proclaim and venerate as Mother of God, because she brought forth Him who is at once God and man, was descended from King David."5

"The Virgin Mary…is acknowledged and honoured as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer."6

"Glorious Theotokos…"7

"Called in the ‘the mother of Jesus,’ Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her Son, as ‘the mother of my Lord.’ In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos)."8


Perpetual Virginity

In the Bible we read the following passage:

"Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this? And they took offence at him" (St. Matt. 13, 54-57).

According to Fundamentalists, it appears clear from this passage that Jesus Christ had brothers and sisters, and that the Virgin Mary did not remain a virgin all Her life. Yet, the Catholic Church asserts that the Virgin Mary was a virgin before, during, and perpetually after the birth of Christ (Ante partum, in partu, post partum), a belief re-asserted during the first decades of the Protestant reformation:

" This immaculate and perpetual virginity forms, therefore, the just theme of our eulogy. Such was the work of the Holy Ghost, who at the Conception and birth of the Son so favoured the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity while preserving inviolate her perpetual virginity."9

The Catholic answer to this apparent contradiction is long and detailed, but decisive. There existed no special word in Hebrew or Aramaic for "cousin." The word "brother" is used in these languages generically, and does not necessarily imply children of the same parent. There are many examples in the Old Testament when the word brother was applied to any kind of relations: nephew (Gen. 12, 5), uncle (Gen. 29, 15); husband (Songs. 4, 9); a member of the same tribe (2 Kgs. 9, 13); of the same people (Exod. 2, 21); an ally (Amos 1, 9); a friend (2 Kgs. 1, 26); one of the same office (1 Sam. 9, 13).10

A number of distinguished Catholic commentators, including St. Thomas Aquinas11, actually hold that the Virgin Mary had made a formal vow of perpetual virginity together with St. Joseph. A vow of virginity would help explain why the Virgin Mary was so perplexed after the Angel Gabriel announced to Her that She was about to bear the Messiah. According to contemporary Jewish custom, marriage was in two stages. The first stage, or betrothal, was when the marriage was effectively made. The Virgin Mary and St. Joseph had concluded this stage. Sexual relationships after this point were not considered as fornication. However, we know that nothing of this kind had yet taken place between the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph ("How can this be, since I am a virgin?" [St. Luke 1, 34]). The second stage of marriage was the social formality of the public celebration. The Virgin Mary and St. Joseph in all probability had to forego this second stage due to their flight to Egypt, nevertheless, this fact did not impugn the validity of their marriage.12

A further Protestant objection is founded on St. Matthew 1, 25 which states that St. Joseph "had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus." It is argued that this passage implies that the Virgin Mary had other children by St. Joseph after giving birth to Jesus. It would be well here to reproduce the footnote commentary on St. Matthew 1, 25 from the Douai-Rheims version of the New Testament:

"St. Jerome shows, by divers examples, that this expression of the Evangelist was a manner of speaking usual among the Hebrews, to denote by the word until, only what is done, without any regard to the future. Thus it is said, Genesis 8, 6 and 7, that Noe sent forth a raven, which went forth, and did not return till the waters were dried up on the earth. That is, did not return anymore. Also Isaias 46, 4, God says: I am till you grow old. Who dare infer that God should then cease to be?...God saith to his divine Son: Sit on my right till I make thy enemies thy footstool. Shall he sit no longer after his enemies are subdued?"

Further, according to the Jewish Law a child was designated as "first-born" irrespective of whether there were yet, or ever to be, subsequent children born to the same mother. This is gathered from Exodus 13, 2, which required that "every first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel" be consecrated to God forty days after their birth.

Who, then, exactly were the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ?

It is best to start by looking at St. John 19, 25. There it is evident that the Virgin Mary had an older sister whose name was also Mary: "Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene."

Turning next to the Gospel of St. Mark 15, 40, speaking on the same point: "There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger (Less) and of Joses (Joseph), and Salome." Who is this "Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses?" Of the Marys mentioned in St. John 19, 25 it must be Mary the wife of Clopas, not Mary the "mother of Jesus," as the Virgin Mary is never mentioned by any other title except as "mother of Jesus." Further, we know that the father of James the younger was Clopas, the husband of Mary of Clopas (St. Mark 3, 18), making Mary of Clopas James’ mother. As for Jude, he was also a son of Clopas and the Virgin Mary’s sister as Scripture speaks of him as a brother of James the younger: "James son of Alphaeus (Clopas), and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the brother of James" (Acts 1, 13 [Douai]). Consequently, Our Lord had cousins by the names of James, Joseph and Jude.13

One can safely state then that the "brothers" of Our Lord as mentioned in St. Matt. 13, 54 -57 being James, Joseph, Jude etc. are in fact the same James, Joseph and Jude just determined to be His cousins. This was St. Jerome's assertion in the early fourth century:

"Suppose that the Brethren of the Lord were Joseph’s sons by another wife. But we understand the Brethren of the Lord to be not the sons of Joseph, but cousins of the Saviour, the sons of Mary, his mother’s sister."14

St. Augustine was no less strident in his defence of the Virgin Mary's perpetual virginity:

"It is written (Ezekiel 44, 2): ‘This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it. Because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it...’ What means this closed gate in the house of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that ‘no man shall pass through it,’ save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this -‘The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it,’ except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of Angels shall be born of her? And what means this - ‘It shall be shut for evermore,’ but that Mary is a Virgin before His birth, a Virgin in His birth, and a Virgin after His birth."15

It would be forcing credibility to believe that the Virgin Mary and Her older "sister" both had the same names and also had children with the same names. One can expect, also, that after St. Joseph died the Virgin Mary would have gone with Our Lord to live with or nearby Her older "sister," explaining why She was travelling with those mentioned in St. Matt. 12, 46. It is a clear example of the word "brother" being used to refer to a first or second cousin.

It is also important to examine closely three major events in Our Lord’s life referred to in the Gospels: (i) the return of the Holy Family from Egypt to Nazareth after the death of Herod; (ii) the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem after being lost for three days; (iii) Our Lord giving His Mother to the care of St. John at His crucifixion. Our Lord, according to tradition, was 10, 12 and 33 years of age respectively when these events occurred. Yet, never is there any mention of brothers or sisters of His being present, which one would naturally expect if they had actually existed.16

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