I Know Not Man

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A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse;
a spring dried up, a fountain sealed.
Song of Solomon 4, 12

Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And, therefore, also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Luke 1, 31-35
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And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done,
because I know not man?
Luke 1, 34

If a fortune teller should happen to tell us that we will die of lung cancer from smoking at some indefinite future time, we might ask how this could be possible, since we don’t smoke. We may add that we never smoke, are not smoking now, and have no intention of ever smoking. We could ask the question in these words: “How shall this be, since I don’t smoke?” and add, “How could I possibly die of lung cancer? Is it because I am going to start smoking (be a smoker) after all?” Mariologist Father Rene Laurentine, in his exegesis of Luke 1:34, notes “we must recognize the present tense ‘I do not know’ as having to do with a condition rather than an instant of time. For example, if someone to whom a cigarette is offered replies, ‘I do not smoke,’ he is understood to mean ‘I never smoke’ and ‘I am not smoking now.'”

At the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary finds herself in a similar situation when the angel Gabriel announces to her that she “will conceive and bear a son.” She is perplexed no less than we would be because she is a virgin (non-smoker) and intends to be one her entire life. Not unlike a non-smoker who is concerned with what is contained inside the crystal ball, Mary anxiously asks the one who is foretelling her future: “How shall this be, since I do not know man?” And since she has no intention of having sexual relations with any man she might marry, she desires to know how it is that she will have a son. Mary must wonder whether she and her betrothed will have conjugal relations after all. In reply, the angel dispels her confusion by telling Mary that the conception and birth of the child will be supernatural; she will be overshadowed by the power of the Most High and, therefore, her Son will be of holy Divine origin (Lk 1:35).

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The original Greek text reads: andra ou ginosko (ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω) which literally is “man not I know” or in English “I know not man.” The Greek verb ginosko (Present Indicative Active) is in the continuous present which shows a permanent disposition to not know man. The original Greek translates what Mary says to the angel in her native tongue of Hebrew-Aramaic: ‘ki enneni yodaat ish.’ The Greek present tense used for Mary’s words in Luke 1:34 corresponds to the Hebrew Aramaic active participle (yodaat) indicating a permanent condition (cf. Manuel Miguens, The Virgin Birth: An Evaluation of Scriptural Evidence).

So, Mary has a permanent disposition to not know man, just as the man who says, “I don’t smoke” has a permanent disposition not to smoke. The verb “to know” in the Scriptures is often used as a Jewish idiom for sexual relations between a man and a woman. Idiomatically, Mary is telling the angel: “I don’t have sexual relations with man.” Now this Jewish idiom for sexual relations is subject to the same rules of grammar as any other verb is. The verb “to know” may be conjugated in the past tense. We read in Genesis 4:1 in the Septuagint: ‘And Adam knew (αὐτοῦ) his wife who conceived and brought forth Cain.’ In other words, Adam had sexual relations with Eve who, as a result, conceived and brought forth Cain. Eve conceived Cain because she had sexual intercourse with Adam.

But Mary does not have sexual relations with man, so she wonders how she will conceive Jesus. She tells the angel: “I do not have sexual relations with man.” She never has sexual relations, and she is not having sexual relations now. Mary is no different from the non-smoker. She has a permanent disposition not to have sexual relations with man, just as the non-smoker has a permanent disposition not to smoke. It is Mary’s permanent disposition and will not to have sexual relations with any man, which explains why she asks the angel how or by what manner she could ever possibly conceive and bear the Messiah, seeing she has no sexual relations with man.

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The King James Bible translation is accurate in that the verb “to know” is in the Present Indicative Active, but it is misleading with the insertion of the indefinite article “a” before “man”, which we don’t have in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. The inclusion of this grammatical exponent can create a misunderstanding of God’s written word. The object in Mary’s statement is andra (ἄνδρα) which means “man”, or more precisely the genre of the male sex. What it does not signify is an individual male, who in this case would be Joseph. The KJB discrepancy may expand to modern readings like this one: “I do not have a husband.”

However, we read in Luke 1:27 that Mary was betrothed (espoused) to Joseph at the appointed time. The couple were already legally married, having observed the first part of the marriage ceremony (Kiddushin) which included the signing of a legal marriage contract. They were in fact husband and wife at the time of the Annunciation, which explains why Joseph could divorce Mary as soon as he discovered she was with child (Mt 1:18-19). Andra can mean “husband” in a general sense (Jn. 4:17), but Mary does not say: “I have no husband,” since she already has an individual one. The object noun andra does not refer to individual men. There is another word for them which is anthropos (ἄνθρωπός) as in Matthew 8:9.

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St. Augustine explains how it is that Mary should even contemplate asking such a question, seeing that she was betrothed to Joseph at the time the angel appeared to her and obligated to bear children within her religious culture.

“Her virginity also itself was on this account more pleasing and accepted, in that it was not that Christ being conceived in her rescued it beforehand from a husband who would violate it, Himself to preserve it; but, before He was conceived, chose it, already dedicated to God, as that from which to be born. This is shown by the words which Mary spake in answer to the Angel announcing to her conception; ‘How, saith she, shall this be, seeing I know not a man?’ which she assuredly would not say, unless she had before vowed herself unto God as a virgin.”
Of Holy Virginity

Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her pledges, that are upon her; he has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.
Numbers 30

The vow of a woman to “afflict herself” included abstaining from having sexual relations with her husband and having a family so that she could dedicate her life exclusively to God. Under the Mosaic Law, provisions were specifically made for such vows, although normally discouraged. A vow made by a woman like this one, however rare and frowned upon, was permissible, since the command to propagate did not apply to females. It applied only to men, which explains why there is no similar statute about vows taken by married men. If Joseph agreed to a chaste marriage, which appears most likely, it was only because he honoured the vow Mary had made before they met, when she was still a young girl serving in the temple and by the time the first part of the marriage ceremony (Kiddushin) was observed, when a contract would have been drawn up and signed making Mary his legal wife.

So, Mary basically asks how it is possible she can conceive and bear Jesus, seeing she is a virgin who intends to have a chaste marriage. She wouldn’t have asked how if she intended to fully consummate her marriage with Joseph after he brought her into his home upon the second marriage ceremony or Nisuin (Mt. 1:20, 25). And in reply to her question, the angel explains how it is she will retain her virginity and keep her vow to God despite having a child: by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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In a grammatical nutshell, Mary asserts she does not have sexual relations with man within a time frame that includes the future simple. Luke has Mary speak in the present tense, active voice, and indicative mood; since the angel does not say that she has conceived or will conceive at some specific time. The fact is she does not have sexual relations with any man, who includes her husband. Her not having sexual relations with man characterizes what she is, viz. a virgin. The verb tense signifies an on-going state (of not having sexual relations with man), not an instant of time, that extends beyond the present moment and embraces the future. Mary asserts she does not have sexual relations with man – not now or ever – despite the angel’s announcement.

Indicated by the present active voice, Mary’s condition is an objective fact which Mary asserts continues beyond the present moment and into the future, including when she is supposed to have a son. The angel’s announcement that she will conceive and bear a son conflicts with her unchanging, ongoing state. This explains her perplexity. The conjunction “since” serves as a logical connector. The Greek word epei (ἐπεί) in this case can be paraphrased as “because”: Because (since/seeing) Mary does not have sexual relations with any man, including her husband, she wonders how she will conceive and bear a son. We mustn’t presume this adolescent of marriageable age knew nothing of biological human reproduction. ​

The indicative mood of the verb ‘to know’ tells us Mary has no intention of having conjugal relations with her husband Joseph regardless of what the angel says. For this reason, she can’t possibly be the mother of the expected Messiah, unless God has other plans for her which she is presently unaware of. The angel Gabriel reveals the Divine intention to Mary in the following verses. Only then does she pronounce her Fiat without further ado and the angel depart (Lk 1:38).

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Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east;
and it was shut. And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not
be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel,
has entered by it; therefore, it shall remain shut.”
Ezekiel 44, 1-3

Therefore, we should keep in mind that the verb “to know” in the first person (ginosko) does not have to do with an instant of time, but rather with Mary’s state itself. Mary does not tell the angel: ‘I am not having relations with a man (my husband) now’ or ‘I have not had any relations with a man until now.’ There would be no reason for her to say these things, since the angel does not tell her that she has conceived or suggest even remotely that she will conceive the child immediately or before her marriage is formally solemnized upon the second and final wedding ceremony (Nisuin). The original Greek text reads: “I do not know man.” Mary has sexual relations with no man ever – not presently, not ever. And since the verb is in the active indicative mood, there is emphasis on the progress of the negative action (to not know man) which continues when she is supposed to have the child – whenever that will be.

The Greek present tense denotes either a progressive or repetitive action. In this case, it is progressive and indicates a continuance of state which bears on a future event. So, there is emphasis on the progress of an action (to not know or have sexual relations with man) or a state (virginity) which extends into the future and affects it. The verb “to be” (estai / ἔσται) is in the simple future tense. Mary’s present state in real time is of no concern.

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‘ki enneni yodaat ish’

Thus, it isn’t really a question of whether she has had relations with her betrothed until now or is having relations with him when she shouldn’t be. The question is whether a woman who does not have sexual relations with any man can ever conceive and bear a son. The angel explains how in the following verse: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” There is something about Mary that Luke wishes to give testimony to, that perpetually she is a virgin. If ever there were a conclusive Scriptural proof-text for the Catholic dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, it would have to be Luke 1:34: “How shall this be done, because I know not man?

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Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign.
Behold the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
Isaiah 7, 14
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Salve Regina!

The Power of the Most High Shall Overshadow Thee

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And I passed by thee, and saw thee:
and behold thy time was the time of lovers:
and I spread my garment over thee,
and covered thy ignominy. And I swore to thee,
and I entered into a covenant with thee,
saith the Lord God: and thou becamest mine.
Ezekiel 16, 8

And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women… And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Luke 1, 26-35
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The intimate union between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary is redolent of a marriage in a spiritual and mystical sense, no less than the relationship between YHWH and Israel is. Though God calls Israel his servant (Isa 41:8), the relationship between YHWH and His chosen people is far more intimate than one between a lord and his servant, no less than the relationship between God and his handmaid is. In the Old Testament, we find that the relationship between YHWH and Israel was essentially a covenantal one indicative of the moral union between a husband and a wife, which foreshadows the espousal between Mary and the Holy Spirit and, of course, Christ the Divine Bridegroom and his virgin bride, the Church.

A type of wedding vow was made between YHWH and the Hebrews at the time Moses received the Divine laws on Mount Sinai for the people of Israel (Ex 19:5-8). At this moment in the history of the Hebrews, Israel became God’s virgin bride. Being her husband’s chaste spouse, she was committed to remain faithful to him. First and foremost, she was not to have other gods before YHWH (Ex 20:1-3). Israel’s occasional infidelity toward her husband was in principle a violation of their wedding vow, and her worshipping of false gods was tantamount to acts of adultery in the eyes of God.

God had to send many judges and prophets to declare His word to Israel and remind her of the covenant relationship He established with His bride. Jeremiah was called to admonish the Israelites for having ignored and persecuted the prophets that God had sent to them because of their infidelity towards Him (Jer 24:4-6). By this time, the husband’s patience towards His spouse had run out to the extent that God, however reluctantly, presented Israel with a writ of divorce. This was after God had pleaded with His chosen people for seven centuries to heed His voice and return to Him and be a faithful and loving spouse. But they would not listen as they should in keeping with their marriage covenant with God. “And I saw, when for all the causes for which backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also” (Jer 3:8).

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For your Maker is your husband;
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel;
The God of the whole earth shall he be called.
Isaiah 54, 5

The decree of divorce did not in any way annul the marriage covenant between YHWH and Israel. It did not liberate the nation from observing the terms of their covenant relationship with God. His intention was to compel the Israelites to come back to Him by removing His protection over them from the surrounding hostile nations and allowing Israel to be taken into bondage because of her infidelity. The people of the Northern Kingdom or House of Israel ended up in Assyrian captivity, followed by the southern kingdom of Judah which fell to the Babylonians and resulted in the destruction of the first Temple.

If God’s writ of divorce was still in effect, His bride couldn’t return to Palestine or, in other words, her husband’s house. The writ served as a means of discipline exacted from an offended husband to his wife to enable her to realize how much she needed him rather than the false idols she had placed before Him in violation of their indissoluble covenant. It was because of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God had no intention to disown, but to restore Israel and renew His covenant with her despite her unworthiness. God willed to take Israel back into His house, notwithstanding her adulterous past, provided she dissolved her marriage with the false gods of Assyria and Babylon and willingly came back to Him (Ezek 20:33-37; Jer 31:31-33).

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And you shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy,
and have separated you from other people,
that you should be mine.
Leviticus 20, 26

The Old Testament frequently depicts Israel as God’s bride, who is expected to be pure and chaste in her nuptial relationship with Him: faithful and loving. As the virgin bride of YHWH, nothing more is required of her than to place all her hope (hasah) and trust (galal) in her husband in a spirit of “steadfast love” which all the six aspects of faith embrace in Judaism. It is God who espouses Israel, removing her from her lowly origin, her fornication and prostitution, and purifying her to be His worthy spouse.

That God should renew His covenant with Israel is best explained by the fact that Israel was elected to be the people from whom the Divine Word would take his flesh. And since the people of Israel were to receive God Incarnate in their midst as one of them, they would have to be made exclusively worthy by means of a special holiness imparted by the Old Covenant. Both Israel and Mary had the divine privilege of bringing the Messiah into the world. Because of their common roles, both had to be specially prepared by God: set apart from the rest of humanity and consecrated to Him as His chaste and faithful bride. 

Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; my covenant which they broke, although I was a husband unto them, says the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jeremiah 31, 31-33

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And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee,
called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Mary.
And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women.
Luke 1, 27-28

Various translations of Luke 1:27 have Mary “betrothed” or “espoused” to Joseph at the time of the Annunciation. Either term means that the couple were legally married, although their marriage hadn’t been consummated yet. Mosaic law provided a two-part marriage ceremony. It began with the betrothal or espousal (Kiddushin) in which Joseph would have given Mary a marriage document and a token of monetary value, usually a ring. The Hebrew word for “betrothed” is kiddush, which is derived from meaning “holy, consecrated, and set apart” as Israel is described to be in her marital relationship with God. In Jewish practice, this is the central moment of the initial wedding ceremony at which time a contract is signed making the couple legally married.

Now the second part of their marriage would have followed a year after the first wedding ceremony. By this time, Joseph was expected to be able to provide for Mary. And if both were happy with each other and remained faithful to each other, the second and final wedding ceremony (Nisuin) would solemnly take place. The ketubah (contract) was the focal point of the second wedding ceremony. Here Joseph would have formally accepted the responsibilities of providing food and shelter, clothing for his wife, and attending to her emotional needs. After the ketubah was signed by Joseph and the two witnesses, and presented to Mary, the marriage was solemnized. Assured of her marital rights, Mary could now move into her husband’s home and consummate their marriage.

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However, according to early Christian tradition, Mary and Joseph agreed on having a chaste marriage before the first marriage ceremony took place because of a vow of continence she had made to God as a young girl while living and serving in the temple. That Joseph should agree to such an arrangement isn’t at all implausible considering Numbers 30:

Vows taken by a married woman
“And if she is married to a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it, and says nothing to her on the day that he hears; then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he expresses disapproval, then he shall make void her vow which was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her.”

Vows to afflict herself
Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her pledges, that are upon her; he has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.”

Torah scholar Jacob Milgrom informs us that the woman’s vow “to afflict herself” meant fasting and abstaining from sexual relations to ancient Jews. Judith may have made such a vow after her encounter with God. She never remarried at her young age after her husband died and left her childless, probably because of her close nuptial type of communion with God. And the fact she never remarried presupposes that such a vow must have been permanent. Moses himself remained continent in his marriage for the rest of his life once God summoned him to lead the Israelites to the promised land, and so did the seventy elders abstain from their wives after they received the call to produce the Septuagint. Eldad and Medad did likewise after the spirit of prophecy came upon them, according to ancient Jewish tradition (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 19; 46.3; Sifre to Numbers 99 sect. 11; Sifre Zutta 81-82, 203-204; Aboth Rabbi Nathan 9, 39; Tanchuman 111, 46; Tanchumah Zaw 13; 3 Petirot Moshe 72; Shabbath 87a; Pesachim 87b, Babylonian Talmud). Provisions such as these were made under Mosaic law. Vows like these which were taken by women were permissible, since the command to propagate strictly applied to men under ordinary circumstances.

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If Joseph agreed on having a chaste marriage with his wife Mary, it would be because he chose to honour her vow which was made before they had met, when she was a girl serving and residing in the Temple from an early age. Meanwhile, there was no statute that condemned a man for having sinned by honouring his intended wife’s vow. Nor was there any directive for him to abort the initial wedding ceremony upon hearing of the vow. Joseph did have the option to either cancel or go through with the Kiddushin after hearing of Mary’s vow. He would have sinned if he had first accepted the vow and then tried to nullify it after they were legally married. Mary would have sinned if she had sprung the news on Joseph after they became espoused or betrothed. Anyway, this provision in the Mosaic law does help explain how Mary and Joseph could have wed, albeit her vow of chastity in her personal covenant with God.

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But after he had considered this, an angel of the LORD
appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what
is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 1, 20

The angel Gabriel spoke to Joseph in a dream after he discovered Mary was with child to reassure him that his wife hadn’t done anything unfaithful, but that the child she was carrying was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18-25). Until then, Joseph had the legal right to file for divorce on the ground of his wife’s apparent promiscuity. In fact, he had the right to publicly condemn her and have her stoned to death for having committed adultery (Deut 22:22-29). But upon the angel’s visit the table had turned. Now Joseph had to reconsider whether he had any legal and moral right to go through with the second wedding ceremony, since his wife Mary had conceived a child by another person.

We know that Joseph was a just man who faithfully observed the precepts of the Mosaic law (Mt 1:14). Under Mosaic law, according to Louis M. Epstein (Marriage Laws in the Bible and the Talmud: Cambridge), if a man’s wife or betrothed was found to be pregnant by another man (person), the husband was forbidden to have conjugal relations with her from that point on. A woman who had known relations with another man, even if by force, was considered no longer fit to be visited by her husband (Gen 49:4; 2 Sam 20:3, 16:21-22).

True, God did not make physical contact with Mary in the natural way, but in her passivity, she was physically affected by the power of the Holy Spirit. And, of course, the two did have a child together. When Adam and Eve were created, God sanctified marriage and decreed that a man and a woman should have children together only on condition that “the two become one flesh” (Gen 2:23-24). In His absolute righteousness, God could never dismiss His own moral law. This is obvious by the fact that the angel appeared to Mary with the good news just before it was time for her husband to take her into his home, which explains why the Jews who knew him regarded our Lord to be the “carpenter’s son” (Mt 13:55). Moreover, God chose to beget a child together with a woman who was a virgin and had no children of her own, not even daughters. Morally Mary belonged to God as his virgin bride which Joseph, being a religiously devout Jew, would have keenly understood in principle.

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The angel relieved Joseph of his fear when he instructed him to take Mary into his home as his lawful wife, but not to normally co-habit with her: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Mt 1:20). In the Greek translation of the original Hebrew, the prepositional phrase “to take home as your wife” reads paralambano gunaika. This shows that there was no need for the angel to tell Joseph that he shouldn’t be afraid to “come together” with his wife (bo-e-lei-ha imma) or “lay with” her (vai-yish-kav imma) (Gen 30:3, 16-17), since the couple had already agreed on having a chaste marriage. And since Mary didn’t commit adultery, Joseph was permitted by law to “take her home” as his lawful wife, regardless of whether the couple had intended to have conjugal relations and children of their own. Anyway, the original Greek phrase does not refer to having conjugal or sexual relations, unlike the Hebrew phrases above.

If Mary and Joseph had intended to have children of their own by the time of the Annunciation, the angel would have told him not to fear “coming together” or “laying with” his wife in the conventional marital sense. But Joseph should be assured that their marriage was still morally valid before God, because not only did Mary conceive Jesus by the Holy Spirit, but also the couple shall not have conjugal relations and any children of their own. Thus, Joseph mustn’t be afraid to formally solemnize the marriage and take his wife into his home for fear of violating the moral law so long as the couple live together but remain continent.

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And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Luke 1, 34-35

God conducted Himself with Mary as a husband with his wife no less honourably and righteously as He had with Israel in their mystical marriage covenant. The spiritual and moral marital relationship Mary had with God was fully consummated at the precise moment she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. As the personification of Daughter Zion, Mary was divinely declared to be kiddush or “holy, consecrated, and set apart” for God when she vowed to enter a personal marriage covenant with Him while still a young temple virgin. Yet she couldn’t have fathomed at the time that she felt compelled to make such a vow by the prompting of the Holy Spirit because she was predestined to be the mother of the divine Messiah.

And so, the nuptial covenant between God and Mary was forever ratified when she faithfully and lovingly consented to be the mother of our divine Lord and permitted the Holy Spirit to cover her nakedness by laying His cloak over her and covering her with His shadow: “Let it be done to me, according to your word” (Lk 1:38). The angel told Mary that she would be “overshadowed by the power of the Most High.” In ancient Jewish culture, a man’s “laying his power over” (resuth) a woman was a euphemism for having marital relations. Similarly, for a man to “overshadow” a woman or “spread his cloak or wing over her” was a euphemism for having conjugal relations in the holy bond of matrimony.

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Ruth intended to have conjugal relations with her lord Boaz when she replied: “I am your handmaid Ruth. Spread the corner of your cloak over me (“cover me with your shadow”), for you are my next of kin” (Ruth 3:9). Rabbinic scholar and Hebrew convert to the Catholic faith Brother Anthony Opisso, M.D., tells us that the word “cloak” (tallith), literally “wing” (kannaph) is derived from the word tellal, meaning “shadow”. Jesus referred to Israel as his bride when he said: “How many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her children under her wing” (Lk 13:34).

As a chaste and religiously devout Jewish woman, Ruth refused to lay with her lord Boaz unless they were morally joined as husband and wife. It was after Boaz had lain with Ruth as his lawfully wedded wife that God permitted her to conceive and bear a son, whose name was Obed, the grandfather of King David, who prefigures Christ as the royal head of God’s kingdom (Ruth 3:9; 4:13). Likewise, Mary was not merely God’s servant when the Holy Spirit came upon her, but His morally united spouse, who conceived and gave birth to our divine Lord and King, whose “kingdom is not of this world,” and who “shall rule all nations with a sceptre of justice” or “rod of iron” (Jn 18:36; Rev 2:27).

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The Lord loveth the gates of Zion above all the tabernacles of Jacob.
Shall not Zion say: This man and that man is born in her?
and the Highest himself hath founded her.
Psalm 87, 2, 5

The early Latin and Greek Fathers of the Catholic Church implicitly perceived Mary to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit in two fundamental ways which reflect the unitive and procreative aspects of conjugal love. First, they portrayed Mary as having been spiritually united with the Holy Spirit and having something supernaturally in common with Him by her interior disposition. The quality of her soul was affected by His sanctifying grace, so that she could worthily be His spouse and the mother of our divine Lord. Our most Blessed Lady had to have a perfect share in His divine nature, seeing she was chosen to conceive and bear the Holy Begotten of God.

St. Hippolytus refers to the Virgin Mary as “the tabernacle” of our Lord and Saviour, and being this “she was exempt from all putridity and corruption” (Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me). Origen pronounces this “Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten Son of God” to be “worthy of God, the immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one” (Homily 1). Indeed, as the most chaste spouse of the Holy Spirit and most worthy Mother of God, in Mary “all things are fair” and, as St. Ephraem adds,” there is “no stain” in the Mother just as there is “no flaw” in her divine Son in his humanity (Nisibene Hymns, 27:8).

Further, St. Athanasius calls Mary the “noble Virgin” who is “greater than any other greatness” and who no human soul “could equal in greatness” since she had been chosen and prepared to be “the dwelling place of God”. He addresses the Virgin Mary as God’s “Covenant”, being “clothed with purity instead of gold”; she is “the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna … the flesh in which Divinity resides” (Homily on the Papyrus of Turin, 71:216). St. Ambrose concurs Mary was “a Virgin, not only undefiled, but a Virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of any stain of sin” (Sermon 22:30). So, for St. Augustine “Mary was the only one who merited to be called the Mother as the Spouse of God” (Sermon 208).

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Mary was perceived to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit by not only having begotten Jesus together with Him through supernatural means, but also by having cooperated with Him in providing spiritual life to the human race. They cooperated as all husbands and wives do in giving life to their children. By consenting to conceive and bear Jesus through the activity of the Holy Spirit, Mary brought the living Source of all grace into the world. The early Church Fathers perceived Mary to be the new Eve, the spiritual “mother of all the living.” Concerning the incarnation and virgin birth, St. Irenaeus writes: “The Word will become flesh, and the Son of God the son of man: The Pure One opening purely that pure womb, which generates men unto God” (Against Heresies, lV.33.12). Mary’s womb was made pure by the Holy Spirit, for it was selected to physically carry and nourish the holy Son of God, and spiritually His brethren (Rom 8:29). We who are regenerated through the baptismal water in the womb of the font are a new creation and children of the new Adam by being the seed of the free promised woman (Gen 3:15).

​Thus, as the new Eve and spouse of the Holy Spirit, Mary couldn’t have conceived other children in sin and borne them in guilt by having conjugal relations with her legal husband Joseph. The only child she was predestined to conceive, and bear, would be of her seed alone. Mary’s womb was meant to provide humankind with the “blessed fruit” which was Jesus (Lk 1:42). In moral union with the Holy Spirit, Mary was chosen to exercise her maternal role of nourishing the human race with the divine Word and the regenerating graces only He could have merited for us in his humanity. All who are baptized in Christ are of the seed of the Woman in hostility with the seed of the serpent or dragon, sinful and wicked humanity ( 1 Cor 11:12; Rev 12:17).

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Finally, the early Church Father St. Cyril of Jerusalem believed that Mary’s chastity and purity of heart reached the culminating point of her virginity when the Holy Spirit had overshadowed her, and she carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. And so, these nine months redounded to her glory and made her the perfect model of virginity. All her children who are reborn in Christ through the cleansing and regenerating water of baptism must emulate that immaculate heart of their mother in their lives. For by doing so, they emulate the purity and righteousness of her firstborn Son and their brethren Jesus. St. Cyril writes: “It became Him who is most pure … to have come forth from a pure bridal chamber” (Catechetical Lecture 12).

The Church Father implicitly taught that all those who are born of the Spirit are Mary’s offspring as well, having come forth from a pure bridal chamber together with Jesus. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn 3:6). Mary would have defiled the bridal chamber if she had had marital relations with her husband Joseph. His seed, tainted by original sin, would have desecrated the holy sanctuary of her womb – the sacred dwelling place of God incarnate (Isa 7:14).​

All Jesus’ brethren, who proceed from the same pure womb untouched by the seed of Adam and are born of the Spirit, shall not perish as new creations in Christ. It is the Spirit who gives birth to spirit and new life to all who are re-created in the Spirit through Mary’s pure womb. All Mary’s offspring must weave for themselves the holy flesh of their Virgin Mother by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and His divine grace. This is all part of the creative aspect of the conjugal union between the Holy Spirit and our Blessed Mother. St. Epiphanius reminds us that “the whole human race proceeds from Eve; but it is from Mary that Life was truly born to the world, so that by giving birth to the Living One, Mary might also become the Mother of all the living” (Against Eighty Heresies 78, 9).

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“And I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice,
and in love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness;
and you shall know the Lord.”
Hosea 2,19-20
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Salve Regina!

The Time Came for Her to Be Delivered

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Before she was in labor she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her she was delivered of a son.
Who ever heard of such a thing, or who ever saw the like?
Can a land be brought forth in one day,
or a nation be born in a single moment?
Yet Zion was scarcely in labor when she bore her children.
Shall I bring a mother to the point of birth,
and yet not let her child be born? says the LORD.
Or shall I who bring to birth yet close her womb?
says your God.
Isaiah 66, 7-9

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2, 4-7
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The Perpetual Virginity of Mary is one of the four Marian dogmas of the Catholic Church. Not unlike the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary body and soul into Heaven, this de fide doctrine derives its integrity from the first Marian dogma of Mary being the Mother of God, in virtue of her first-born Son’s divinity in his single person hypostatically united with our humanity. Mary is the mother of God or the Divine Logos incarnate (Isa. 7:14; Lk. 1:35, 43; Jn. 1:14). So, the dogma of Mary ever-virgin basically holds that the mother of our Lord remained a virgin her entire life in view of the Divine Maternity, albeit her marriage with Joseph and the Jewish religious and cultural norms of the time.

Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, during his birth, and after she gave birth to him. Moreover, Catholics have always believed since earliest time that Mary’s union with the Holy Spirit was redolent of a marriage in a spiritual sense, as the relationship between YHWH and Israel was, and thereby moral in nature. If Mary chose to remain chaste her entire life and stay continent in her marriage with her legal husband, whoever that might be, it was by the prompting of the Holy Spirit at an early age, whose virgin spouse in a spiritual and mystical sense she was chosen to be from all eternity (Lk. 1:35).​

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God willed that a matrimonial type of covenant should exist between Him and His handmaid Mary with all the dignity contained in the sacrament. It was becoming, therefore, that a partnership, which reflected that of the whole of life and which was ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation of offspring and nurturing them, should exist between the two. As a man and a woman should become one flesh in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony to meet the Divine purpose of consummating their marriage, so too should the Holy Spirit and Mary become morally one in spirit in their quasi-physical union in accord with the Divine moral law for the same Divine purpose.

​In a sense, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, God proposed to Mary when she was a young girl living and serving in the Temple. He claimed her as his own virgin bride and possession, not only so that they should beget the holy Child together, but also that through their consummation they might beget all His children who would be regenerated unto God by being reborn in the Spirit (Jn. 3:3; Rom. 8:29). All members of Christ’s Mystical Body are the only other children Mary begot following the birth of her divine Son, who belong to the spiritual family of God that transcends all blood ties in the natural world (Mk. 3:31-35) and are the seed of the free promised woman (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:17).

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By the influence of divine grace, Mary felt compelled to remain chaste her entire life so that she could devote herself to God entirely in body and spirit. Once she became the mother of our Lord, she could focus all her attention on her divine Son and, in union with God, raise and nurture him until it was time for his public ministry to begin, on which occasion Mary’s motherhood would be spiritually redefined and extended to all humanity (Jn. 2:3-8; 19:26-27).

​Indeed, Mary had consecrated herself to God when she was still a young girl without really knowing all the implications that her sublime act involved. She could hardly have imagined that she was predestined to be the mother of her Lord. Yet God had preordained to single His handmaid out from fallen humanity and establish His covenant with her, as He had with Israel, before she was even conceived in her mother’s womb. For this reason, God preserved Mary free from all stain of original sin and its ill moral effects: concupiscence of the eyes, concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life. God sanctified Mary’s soul at the first instant of her conception and endowed her with a perfect and complete abundance of lasting grace (kecharitomene), so that she would be worthiest of being the mother of His Only-begotten Son and the unblemished bride of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:28). Her marriage covenant with God required a shared moral and spiritual disposition which presupposed that she lives a supernatural life of grace raised above the natural state of fallen humanity (Lev. 20:26; Ezek. 16: 8-14).

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Luke portrays Mary as the antitupos of the pure and undefiled Ark of the Covenant by referring to the Book of Exodus and the Second Book of Samuel among other Old Testament texts. The Ark was so holy by Divine consecration, that if any common man should touch it without first having had himself ritually purified, despite any good intention, he would certainly die (2 Sam. 6:6-7). God sanctified the Ark of the Covenant by His physical manifestation, as it was constructed by His specifications to serve as His sacred dwelling place. Nothing profane was permitted to touch it.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains that Mary’s womb was a sacred shrine infused by the Holy Spirit (Shekinah) and a personal dwelling place of God the Son made man, so it was unfitting that this holy sanctuary of the Lord be used to gestate and bring forth common sinful offspring by the tainted seed of man (Summa Theologica, lll, Q.28, a. 3.). As a devout Jew, Joseph must have revered Mary’s womb as much as he would have revered the Ark and the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Certainly, he wouldn’t have dared enter the Holy of Holies. Mary’s sacred womb was God’s personal sanctuary – not his “foot-stool” (Isa. 66:1).

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Having conjugal relations within the holy bond of matrimony isn’t sinful by any means. A marriage blessed by God is intrinsically good, whereas pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relations deeply offend Him by violating His will for what is good for a man and a woman. A jewel chest is a good thing to have for one who is in possession of many valuable jewels. But to put these jewels inside the Ark of the Covenant for safe keeping would amount to sacrilege. Joseph knew that he would not only have committed sacrilege, but also adultery in a moral sense, if he had had marital intercourse with Mary and opened her womb with his tainted seed after his wife had been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceived the holy Son of God by Him without opening her womb with tainted seed.

Morally, Mary was espoused to God as His virgin bride. She was “overshadowed” by “the power” or authority (resuth) of the Most High God: a Hebrew euphemism for having conjugal relations. Thus, Mary was under God’s rule and authority as a wife is under her husband by Divine ordinance. As God’s spouse, she morally belonged exclusively to him, as Eve had under the rule or authority (resuth) of her husband Adam (Gen. 3:16).
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And the angel of the Lord appeared to him
in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush;
and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning,
yet it was not consumed.
Exodus 3, 2
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The Catholic dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary simply stated means that our Blessed Lady was “ever-virgin”. She was a virgin (virgo) before (ante-partum), during (in partu), and after (post-partum) the birth of Jesus. With respect to Mary being a virgin before and after the birth of Jesus, our conventional understanding of the word virgin should come to mind. We take it to mean that Mary had no sexual relations with her husband Joseph before and after our Lord’s birth. However, when Catholics speak of Mary as having been a virgin during the birth of Jesus, they don’t mean that she abstained from having conjugal relations with her husband during the time of her pregnancy or at the time of her Son’s birth.

Rather, what the Catholic Church has traditionally believed and taught from earliest time is that when Mary gave birth to Jesus, her physical virginal integrity remained intact. There was no breaking of the hymen, no physical pain or discomfort that is normally experienced by a woman in labour, no issuance of water and blood, and no placenta and umbilical cord. Mary’s bodily integrity remained inviolate in harmony with her chaste spiritual integrity. There was no profane element of anything natural or any form of physical corruption in her giving birth to Jesus that could violate the purity of her soul and her exemption from all stain of original sin, nor anything wholly natural at all that could defile and render impure her holy Child. Both the Mother and the Son were exempted from experiencing the corruption associated with original sin.

Thus, the birth of Jesus was as supernatural and miraculous as his conception was by the power of the Holy Spirit. The entire creative process of the Son of man proceeded from no seed (zera) of man who descended from fallen Adam. So, all that was profane in the natural process of procreation, from the time the male seed opens a woman’s womb to the time of the offspring’s birth, as the result of Eve’s transgression and the fall of man, was kept at bay by Divine intervention. The appointed time that Mary should be delivered and give birth to her Son was set by God to be “before” she would naturally go into physical labour.

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The holy presence of God in Mary’s sanctified womb couldn’t have defiled or violated her virginal integrity in any way. Nor could her Divine offspring have been subjected to the corrupt elements of the birth process because of sin, which would have rendered him ritually impure for his presentation in the Temple and subject to the ceremonial law of circumcision. The Virgin Mary was the bride of YHWH (the Divine Bridegroom) in the flesh who had put His bride at enmity with the Serpent and all its works (Gen. 3:15). Both the Mother and the Son shared a single enmity (Lk. 1;42).

There is absolutely no affinity between the sacred and the profane, or between the Divine holiness and corruption itself in all its forms because of sin. The burning bush was alight in flames but was not consumed and turned into ashes because of God’s immediate presence. What God sanctifies merely by His presence cannot be subject to putridity and corruption. Rather, it is made holy. Indeed, God commanded Moses to remove the sandals from his feet before he could approach the burning bush, for even the earth that surrounded it was made holy by God’s physical manifestation (Ex. 3:5). The soil on the soles of his sandals was implicitly declared to be impure.

The Divine Logos, Jesus, sanctified his mother’s womb while He was present there, and He preserved the sanctity of her body at the appointed time when the Father willed that he be born. All forms of physical corruption in creation are the result of Adam and Eve’s sin, by which they forfeited the original grace of holiness and justice for humanity. The Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin by her Immaculate Conception. She was exempted, therefore, from the law of sin which Eve brought down upon women, because she was chosen to be the mother of the Divine Messiah and Bridegroom (Gen. 3:16). Most blessed was the mother of the Lord among women and blessed was the fruit of her womb (Lk. 1:42).

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The Virginitas In Partu (virginity during the birth) has belonged to the Apostolic Tradition of the Catholic Church from the beginning. What the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church have taught about Mary’s virgin birth has been handed down by faithful transmission (paradosis) from the Apostles through the oral tradition. St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, was a student of Bishop St. Polycarp of Smyrnaea, who in turn was a disciple of the Apostle St. John, with whom Mary lived the rest of her life until c. A.D. 48 (Jn. 19:27). This is what Irenaeus (180-190 A.D.) has written as a living testimony to the Apostolic Faith: “The Word will become flesh, and the Son of God the son of man—the Pure One opening purely that pure womb, which generates men unto God.” [Against Heresies 4, 33, 12].

Meanwhile, in his Gospel, John the Evangelist writes: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt (eskenosen) among us, …’ (1:14). The root word for this Greek verb is skene, which means “tent” or “tabernacle, such as the portable tent or tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant until the First Temple was completely built by David’s son, King Solomon. Where else, but in the most sacred womb of his Blessed Mother did our Lord “tabernacle” himself among us? His blessed mother’s womb was a sanctuary and personal dwelling place of God as sacred, if not more, than the inner sanctuary of the Temple. For God’s incarnation took place there by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary’s husband Joseph could no more open her womb with his tainted seed after the birth of Jesus than the High Priest could enter the Temple sanctuary that housed the Ark but only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) or be struck dead. God’s absolute personal holiness was not to be taken for granted.

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Irenaeus certainly knew his Isaiah very well, and so, in a Christian context, he could interpret the verse as Messianic. He speaks of the Virgin Mary as being the anti-type of Yahweh’s virgin bride, Daughter Zion, from whose blessed womb redeemed offspring are born regenerated in spirit unto God after having been liberated from captivity in sin or Babylon. God shall suddenly and in an unexpected manner come into the world through his virgin bride without inflicting birth pangs and injury to the mother herself. He who is to come into the world to heal mankind of the malady of sin shall not be the cause of the effects of sin. Nor can he who offers himself as the only remedy for sin have his mother, the new Eve, be made subject to what Eve wrought for all women by her transgression. The Virgin Mary is “most blessed among women” (Lk. 1:42).

Further, Irenaeus drew a perfect analogy between Adam and Jesus – the New Adam – to show the Gnostics (who believed Jesus only appeared to be human in the flesh) how God intended to redeem humanity in the most perfect manner; that is by way of recapitulation, which required that the Redeemer be as much man as Adam was, but not from tilled soil. So, to be fully human, the Divine Word had to virginally assume his flesh and blood from a woman. Up to the time of the Incarnation, Mary was that virgin, of whose untilled and virgin flesh Jesus would be formed by the power of the Holy Spirit, just as God had originally made Adam from untilled and virgin soil – not through paternal seed as his fallen descendants would be after the fall.

Thus, Jesus was fully God and fully man born of the Virgin Mary. Mary’s pure womb provided the source of untilled virgin flesh her Son would take from her by his virginal conception, for up to that time she had had no relations with Joseph, just as the soil was still untilled and virginal at the time Adam was created before the fall. Neither Adam nor Jesus had earthly fathers but, nevertheless, they were both fully human. Jesus was no more an appearance of man than Adam was. The implication here is that Mary couldn’t have begotten Jesus by naturally going into painful labour, since her Son wasn’t conceived in sin by the seed of man. Both Mary’s conception and birth of Jesus were virginal. [cf. Against Heresies 3: 21.10: A Vindication of the Prophecy in Isaiah (VII. 14) Against the Misinterpretations of Theodotion, Aquila, the Ebionites, and the Jews. Authority of the Septuagint Version; arguments in Proof that Christ Was Born of a Virgin].
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Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, facing the east; but it was closed. He said to me: “This gate is to remain closed;
it is not to be opened for anyone to enter by it; since the Lord,
the God of Israel, has entered by it, it shall remain closed.”
Ezekiel 44, 1- 3
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The Universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church has infallibly defined as a de fide doctrine that “at the appropriate time, Jesus left his mother’s womb through the natural channels, but in a miraculous way, just as he had entered it without the least diminution of her virginal integrity” (Lumen Gentium, 57). Jesus was born without in any way opening his mother’s womb, just as the Holy Spirit had overshadowed Mary without opening it. In other words, there was no dilation of the birth canal, no opening of the vagina, and no breaking of the virginal hymen. Jesus passed through the birth canal and entered the world like he had entered the room where his disciples were gathered with the doors locked (Jn. 20:19).

In defense of the miraculous and painless birth of Christ, St. Thomas Aquinas drew the analogy of light passing through glass without damaging it (Summa Theologica, III, Q. 28, a. 2. ). With this imagery in mind, he argued that Jesus passed through his mother’s womb without opening it and without any harm to her physical virginal seal. This was only fitting because Mary was the pure and perfect tabernacle of Christ, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The birth of her Son ought to have been an experience that drew her into closer spiritual communion with God rather than one that could have momentarily distanced her soul from God because of physical distress. St. Augustine contended that he who was the light of the world and “came to heal corruption” should not “by his advent violate integrity” (Sermon 189).

Jesus came to save and re-create mankind and renew the state of the world. His mother’s pure womb was his first work of re-creation in the physical order. The miracle was an eschatological sign of the restoration and renewal of creation with the coming of the Messiah: a long-awaited hope of the Jews. Therefore, it was fitting that his mother’s virginal integrity be preserved intact and he be born in new conditions raised above the state of fallen man and creation.

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St. Cyril of Jerusalem (350 A.D.) implicitly taught Mary’s virginal integrity remained inviolate when she brought forth her divine Son. He writes in his Catechetical Lecture Xll.25: “For it became Him who is most pure, and a teacher of purity, to have come forth from a pure bride-chamber.” Clearly, the pure bride-chamber refers to Mary’s moral union with the Holy Spirit in begetting Christ together free from the taint of sin. In the same lecture, he speaks of Mary’s virginity and chastity as finding its culmination during the nine months she carried Jesus in her womb. The height of Mary’s spiritual and bodily purity was reached when God became incarnate in her womb and sanctified it with His presence, as much as His theophanies sanctified the tabernacle of the Ark and the Temple in Jerusalem. We can recall how grievously Jesus reacted to the mercenary activities of the merchants and money changers in the Temple precincts (Mt. 21:12-13).

The Divine Maternity was Mary’s singular and personal glory because of her virginal state, the purity of her body and soul. And this glory of hers should always last for her to be the worthy mother of our Lord. She had to be perpetually chaste and preserved free from all forms of the taint of sin and corruption to be the worthiest of all mothers for our Lord. Mary’s purity in body and soul had to completely conform to the inviolate purity of her Son in the fullness of his humanity.

Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. She was God’s virginal bride. Jesus came forth from “a pure bridal chamber”, exempted from putridity and corruption. Mary was God’s virginal and “holy bride” whose “nuptial pledges” were made to Him in their marriage covenant. The glory of Mary’s chastity would have been extinguished if she had given birth to Jesus in the natural way as all women do by the seed of sinful man. Cyril acknowledged two essential things about Mary: She was the “Virgin Mother of God” and she was God’s “holy bride” throughout her life, being the mother of His Divine Son. In verse 32 of Lecture Xll, Cyril states that our Lord’s “birth was pure, undefiled” which indicates he believed, along with the other Church Fathers and Doctors who explicitly taught the Virginitas In Partu, that Mary’s physical virginal integrity continued beyond the miraculous conception of Jesus and the months she had held him in her sacred womb. Mary was ever-virgin.
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Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a
sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel: God with us.
Isaiah 7, 14

And while they were there,
the time came for her to be delivered.
Luke 2, 6
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That Jesus would be born miraculously just as he had been conceived by the will of God, and Mary remain a virgin during the birth of Jesus, was foretold by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall “conceive” (παρθένος) in the womb, and shall “bring forth” (τέξεται) a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel.’ (7:14). This passage from the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew OT. The Hebrew word harah can mean either conceive (become pregnant) or be pregnant (be with child). Isaiah means “to become pregnant”. The Septuagint, which Matthew cites in his gospel (1:23) to show that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ real father, verifies this. The meaning of the Greek word εννοώ is “to conceive” strictly in the sense of “becoming pregnant” or “cause to be pregnant.”

Since virgins do not naturally conceive offspring, it follows that the prophet is speaking of a supernatural conception. Included with Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus is her virginal act of giving birth to him, which virgins naturally don’t give. Isaiah says that a virgin shall “bring forth a son.” The Greek word τέξεται (“bring forth” or “cause to be born”) is translated from וֹי ל דת (u·ildth: literally “one giving birth”), which is the intended meaning of the verb “to bear” (yalad) in the Hebrew OT. Hence, this verse must do with two miraculous events: the conception and birth of Jesus. The conception of Jesus was virginal, since Mary’s womb hadn’t been opened by the seed of man. The act of Mary giving birth was virginal, since Christ hadn’t opened his mother’s womb when he was born. Mary was a virgin at the time of Christ’s birth as well as at his conception. This is confirmed by another Zion prophecy of Isaiah (66:7): ‘Before she travailed (ta hil), she brought forth (ya-la-dah); before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. It appears Luke confirms what God has intended to fully reveal (sensus plenior) through the words of the prophet.

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What Isaiah says in 7:14 about the Virgin Birth reflects what God intends to reveal in 66:7: Mary’s virginal integrity is never violated on either occasion, neither when she conceives Jesus nor when she gives birth to her Divine Son. We read in the English version of the Septuagint – the Greek translation from the Hebrew: ‘Before she that travailed brought forth, before the travail-pain came on, she escaped it and brought forth a male.’ (Isaiah 66:7). The original Hebrew expression for “she was delivered” is malat (maw-lat’), also meaning “she escaped it” as we have in the Greek translation. The above passage sheds light on the full meaning and implications of the Hebrew phrase חֵ֛בֶללָ֖הּ וְהִמְלִ֥יטָה זָכָֽר׃ (she was delivered) in Isaiah 66:7 found in the Masoretic Text. The Virgin Mary escaped the experience of having to go into labour before giving birth, as all mothers ordinarily must, by Divine deliverance. She didn’t deliver her child (active voice) but was delivered (passive voice) of her child at God’s appointed time and by His intervention.

Any woman who has given or gives birth (active voice) is delivered from or has been released from the travails of the act of child birth (passive voice). She causes this release or escape from travail by giving birth. So, what the Hebrew phrase implies is that Mary has escaped from going into labour and experiencing pain before she should when giving birth. The Alexandrian Jews who translated the Hebrew into Greek understood the connotations of this expression. Thus, we have: “she escaped it and brought forth.” The woman is the physical cause of giving birth (active voice), but God’s intervention is the cause of when she shall give birth – that is before she goes into labour and is delivered from the natural pangs of childbirth (passive voice).

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Mary miraculously gives birth to the male child by Divine intervention. God releases her from the prospect of going into labour and experiencing the pangs of childbirth, which she can have no control over and is unable to escape from causatively until she gives birth, unless God causes her to give birth beforehand. Moreover, the Hiphil stem can be used to express a causative type of action with an active voice. It is causative of the Qal stem of a verb. In other words, the subject causes the action of the verb, but the subject does not directly perform the act. In many instances, we can take the Qal form of the verb and precede it with ‘to cause to’ or ‘to make to’. For example: ‘David reigned over Israel.’ (Qal stem with David as the subject of the verb); ‘God caused David to reign over Israel (Hiphil stem of the same verb with God as the subject).’

Mary, therefore, causes the action of giving birth, but she does not directly perform the action of giving birth before her time comes. It is God who directly performs or causes the act of her giving birth before she goes into labour and experiences pain. It is by a miracle and Divine intervention that the Virgin shall not only conceive, by no seed of man, but also give birth to a Son with her womb unopened like a gate that must remain shut, that is before she naturally goes into labour and her pains set in. Not even the Prince of peace shall open it, let alone any offspring of Joseph, so Ezekiel prophesies. The Virgin neither conceives nor bears a Son in a completely natural or normal way. Isaiah’s sign points to a miracle that comprises the entire process of procreation from conception to birth, which points to the divinity of the coming Messiah King who shall inherit the throne of his father David and restore his royal dynasty. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the trigger sign or great sign in heaven of this eternal restoration (Rev. 12).

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In the first half of the 5th century, the great doctrinal controversies in the Christian world all revolved around the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures of Christ and how Christ’s divinity and humanity were related in him. The Council of Chalcedon presents us with the definitive dogmatic resolution to these controversies, which holds even today as the profession of the Catholic Church’s faith. The basis for this conciliar definition was a letter that Pope Leo I sent in advance to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Pope Leo’s letter, commonly known as the Tome of Leo, was originally written in Latin in 449 A.D. but was translated into Greek for use at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The following excerpt is the English translation from the Greek text, since the Conciliar Greek text is more authoritative than the Latin one. The Tome is primarily Christological in its topic, but the Church’s profession of faith in Mary being “Ever-Virgin” is equally ratified, though secondary in importance with respect to the dogma of the Incarnation. The words in the Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great include: “He was conceived from the Holy Spirit inside the womb of the virgin mother. Her virginity was as untouched in giving him birth as it was in conceiving him. So, without leaving his Father’s glory behind, the Son of God comes down from his heavenly throne and enters the depths of our world, born in an unprecedented order by an unprecedented kind of birth.”
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I will declare the decree:
the LORD hath said unto me,
Thou art my Son;
this day have I begotten thee.
Psalm 2, 7
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Salve Regina!