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The Theotokos and her ever-virginity


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#1 Anthony G. Peggs

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 07:22 AM

I have another question now, this one in regards to The Ever Virginity of The Most Holy Theotokos.
I definitely believe that The Theotokos is Ever Virgin. However I was wondering two things.


#1: can anyone post here any quotations from The Holy Fathers and Saints regarding The Perpetual Virginity of The Theotokos? or at least point me to where i may find some? I would really love to read them.


#2: I’ve heard somewhere (possibly on this message board) that the name Ever Virgin was first used in the second or third century. I was wondering why this is? The Church believed she was Ever Virgin from the beginning, so shouldn’t we have any earlier testimonies? I am not doubting in anyway, like I said I truly believe The Theotokos is indeed Ever Virgin.

Any help will be great!

Thanks!

Edited by Olga, 16 June 2010 - 10:46 PM.
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#2 Michael Albert

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 01:32 PM

Try this:

http://www.orthodoxi...evervirgin.aspx

#3 Michael Stickles

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 01:32 PM

#1: can anyone post here any quotations from The Holy Fathers and Saints regarding The Perpetual Virginity of The Theotokos? or at least point me to where i may find some? I would really love to read them.


The thread Perpetual virginity of the Theotokos has some discussion on this issue. The earliest work I know of which uses the term "ever-virgin" is Against Beron and Helix by Hippolytus, written around 220 AD. The Infancy Gospel of James, probably written between 140-170 AD, does not (if I recall correctly) use that specific term, but does treat her as ever-virgin. I had done a study on this back when I was considering Orthodoxy (it was one of my "problem issues"); I'll see if I can find it tonight and post a few more references.

#2: I’ve heard somewhere (possibly on this message board) that the name Ever Virgin was first used in the second or third century. I was wondering why this is? The Church believed she was Ever Virgin from the beginning, so shouldn’t we have any earlier testimonies? I am not doubting in anyway, like I said I truly believe The Theotokos is indeed Ever Virgin.


Well, in the first century the Theotokos was still alive, so nothing much would have been written about her out of respect for her modesty. And we don't have a whole lot of non-apocryphal writings from the second century compared to later centuries, so the lack is understandable.

Also, many times when an issue is discussed in these earlier writings, it is because the issue has become a point of contention. Hippolytus' reference to Mary's ever-virginity was made pretty much in passing while discussing the Incarnation. He offered no supporting references or arguments, as if he was mentioning something so accepted and well-known that it needed no support. If there was no contention or argument about it at the time, it's unlikely it was written about with any frequency.

In Christ,
Michael

#4 Anthony G. Peggs

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Posted 16 June 2010 - 06:29 PM

thank you both! Michael, if you can post that study that would be awesome!

#5 Michael Stickles

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 02:55 AM

Well, it turns out I didn't have as much in my document as I thought. I remember that I quit working on it when I realized my problem with Mary's ever-virginity had little to do with Scripture and everything to do with Western attitudes towards sexuality. Looking back over it, I'm not sure why I thought 75% of it was even relevant, so I won't post the whole thing.

What I had been looking for at the time was the earliest clear statements regarding Mary's ever-virginity, and the earliest statements in opposition (I did not include the Protevangelium of James since, still being a Protestant at the time, I treated it as apocryphal). The primary things I found were:

Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, from book 7, chapter 16 (written between 192-202 AD)

But, as appears, many even down to our own time regard Mary, on account of the birth of her child, as having been in the puerperal state, although she was not. For some say that, after she brought forth, she was found, when examined, to be a virgin.

Now such to us are the Scriptures of the Lord, which gave birth to the truth and continue virgin, in the concealment of the mysteries of the truth.


Technically, this does not directly address the ever-virginity issue, but I couldn't imagine anyone believing in her virginity after childbirth while not also believing in her ever-virginity. So, I counted it as supporting ever-virginity.

Hippolytus, Against Beron and Helix, from fragment 8 (around 220 AD?)

But the pious confession of the believer is that, with a view to our salvation, and in order to connect the universe with unchangeableness, the Creator of all things incorporated with Himself a rational soul and a sensible body from the all-holy Mary, ever-virgin, by an undefiled conception, without conversion, and was made man in nature, but separate from wickedness: the same was perfect God, and the same was perfect man; the same was in nature at once perfect God and man.


This was the earliest use of "ever-virgin" that I found.

Athanasius the Great, Against the Arians, Second oration, pgh. 70 (between 356-360 AD)

Therefore let those who deny that the Son is from the Father by nature and proper to His Essence, deny also that He took true human flesh of Mary Ever-Virgin;



This one is from much later, but several commentators seemed to treat Athanasius' declaration as kind of "nailing the issue down", so I noted it.

The closest I managed to come to a dissenting voice (I thought) was this one:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3 (written c. 182-188 AD)

To this effect they testify, [saying,] that before Joseph had come together with Mary, while she therefore remained in virginity, “she was found with child of the Holy Ghost;” ...



However, Irenaeus is really just quoting Matt. 1:18, and I later learned that this passage (along with the "until" a few verses later in v. 25) had been pretty thoroughly explained. John Chrysostom's sermon on that passage cleared up any lingering doubts on the issue. Nothing else I dug up even came this close to dissenting. I did read some claims that Tertullian did not believe in the ever-virginity of Mary, but did not find any references I could check.

In Christ,
Michael

#6 Kosta

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 04:28 AM

The common way of refering to Christ's mother as 'Virgin Mary', denotes in of itself her ever-virginity. If she stopped being a virgin afterwards, the early church would simply have called her "blessed Mary'.

St Ignatius of Antioch many times refered to Mary simply as "the Virgin'. In ch 19 of his epistle to the ephesians he writes, Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God...

An early apocryphal writing which may even date as early as 90 a.d. known as the odes of Solomon speaks of her womb remaining inviolate:
'The womb of the Virgin took it, and she received conception and gave birth.
So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies.
And she labored and bore the Son but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose.
And she did not require a midwife, because He caused her to give life'.

#7 Michael Stickles

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 12:29 PM

The common way of refering to Christ's mother as 'Virgin Mary', denotes in of itself her ever-virginity. If she stopped being a virgin afterwards, the early church would simply have called her "blessed Mary'.


Well, the vast majority of early references I've seen wouldn't necessarily lead to that interpretation, since they were specifically referring to her in the context of Christ's conception and birth (or at least could be seen in that way), and thus could be argued to be limited to that context.

Understand, I'm not saying that your statement is wrong, but rather that you kind of have to "know the answer" ahead of time for it to work. In other words, if someone isn't already convinced of her ever-virginity, the argument will likely make no sense to them.

#8 D. W. Dickens

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 06:36 PM

I've gone 'round-and-about in these threads, because the problem I had as a protestant wasn't the term Ever-Virgin, but rather what Ever-Virgin meant. If the interpretations I've heard online (my priest never required me to submit to any particular interpretation before baptism, only asked that I accept the term on faith, which I did), are correct then the confusion comes with the desire to avoid a more crude and distracting terminology.

Always in the past, to my mind (and I've mentioned this before) virginity concerned solely sexual intercourse. However, the contention is that it is not about that to the fathers, rather it is much more than mere sexual intercourse, but that she wasn't "damaged" (corrupted, injured, defiled) by the birth either. This isn't just about her holiness, but speaks to the divine nature of Christ and the fact of the Incarnation. A mere touch of His garment healed, there could be no harm in His birth, nor could it fall under the curse of Eve, for it is the very antidote for that poison.

#9 David Hawthorne

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 10:04 PM

It is odd that several of my friends, whenever they discuss Orthodoxy with me, find the Ever-Virginity of the Theotokos to be a real sticking point regardless of the fact that the first Reformers even accepted it. I suspect it is because we as a society have lost the concept of something set aside to God and we have also elevated sex almost to the level of a sacrament. They seem to think that somehow Mary has lost something by foregoing sex for a closer union with God.

#10 Ruth Sammons

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 04:24 AM

I don't get it myself. After his resurrection Christ was able to pass through locked doors and the like - his body was changed in some way. But before that, the evidence points to a body like in all respects to our bodies - what was not assumed is not healed and so on. So birthing a baby who was a regular baby, I mean, truly a real baby, would make a change in a virgin's body. To me it is a Christological issue, and important that the Theotokos sustained an opening big enough for a baby to pass through. I don't see it as a defiling thing in any way. I don't see that for any woman that childbirth "corrupts". But that puts me into disagreememnt wiith the Fathers who were so careful to show that Christ was fully man as well as fully God. It is puzzling.

Edited by Ruth Sammons, 18 June 2010 - 04:24 AM.
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#11 Olga

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 05:18 AM

So birthing a baby who was a regular baby, I mean, truly a real baby, would make a change in a virgin's body. To me it is a Christological issue, and important that the Theotokos sustained an opening big enough for a baby to pass through. I don't see it as a defiling thing in any way. I don't see that for any woman that childbirth "corrupts". But that puts me into disagreememnt wiith the Fathers who were so careful to show that Christ was fully man as well as fully God. It is puzzling.


Ruth, the "corruption" of childbirth which the Mother of God did not suffer refers, above all, to the fact that she was not "burned up" or destroyed by the Divine Fire which was contained within her body, not to the supposed dimensions of her birth canal. No-one could look upon the face of God in His full divinity and live; even the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor was "incomplete", in that the divinity and glory of Christ as God was a mere glimpse of its fullness, for the sake of the three disciples. Yet, God the Father allowed the Virgin to bear His Son, fully man and fully God, without travail, without bodily corruption or harm.

There are many, many references to this in Orthodox hymnography; let's not also forget that the Unburnt Bush of the OT is a prefiguration of the Mother of God, and her miraculous conception and birth-giving of God Incarnate. She is also the East Gate, as prophesied by Ezekiel:

"And when they have completed these days, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer upon the altar your burnt offerings and your peace offerings; and I will accept you,” says the Lord God. 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. Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.” Then He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord; and I fell upon my face.

Ez. 43:27-44:4 is, not surprisingly, one of the standard OT readings at Vespers for most feasts of the Mother of God. The first OT reading at Vespers for the Annunciation is Ex. 3:1-8, the encounter of Moses and the burning bush.

Edited by Olga, 18 June 2010 - 09:20 AM.


#12 Kosta

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 05:52 AM

I've gone 'round-and-about in these threads, because the problem I had as a protestant wasn't the term Ever-Virgin, but rather what Ever-Virgin meant. If the interpretations I've heard online (my priest never required me to submit to any particular interpretation before baptism, only asked that I accept the term on faith, which I did), are correct then the confusion comes with the desire to avoid a more crude and distracting terminology.

Always in the past, to my mind (and I've mentioned this before) virginity concerned solely sexual intercourse. However, the contention is that it is not about that to the fathers, rather it is much more than mere sexual intercourse, but that she wasn't "damaged" (corrupted, injured, defiled) by the birth either. This isn't just about her holiness, but speaks to the divine nature of Christ and the fact of the Incarnation. A mere touch of His garment healed, there could be no harm in His birth, nor could it fall under the curse of Eve, for it is the very antidote for that poison.


This is true and in fact, in many cultures this is still the meaning of virginity. My mother who is old school greek and many other i know still hold to this definition of virginity. Hence the Theotokos was a virgin before conception, during his Birth and remained as such. This is signified by the 3 stars on her garments in her icons.

#13 Paul Cowan

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 01:53 PM

I don't get it myself. [...] It is puzzling.


As my priest is fond of saying "all things will be revealed".

#14 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 03:34 PM

Just suppose you are an observant Jew and widower named Joseph, in the days before the Incarnation. I think it fair to assume that you are relatively knowledgeable about Scripture (since Judaism traditionally puts a high value on education in general and the Scriptures in particular), so you are no doubt familiar wit the story of Uzziah and what happens to anyone who touches the Ark of the Covenant (the "resting place of God"). As a respected member of the community you are asked to take a very special young woman into your care (the Theotokos). Then you have a most amazing dream where you are visited by celestial beings informing you that this young woman is going to be the "resting place of God", the true "Ark". How might that affect your relationship with this person, do you think?

Herman the suppositional Pooh

#15 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 04:04 PM

I don't get it myself. After his resurrection Christ was able to pass through locked doors and the like - his body was changed in some way. But before that, the evidence points to a body like in all respects to our bodies - what was not assumed is not healed and so on. So birthing a baby who was a regular baby, I mean, truly a real baby, would make a change in a virgin's body.


More puzzles: God spoke to Moses, at one point, through a bush that burned but was not consumed. Why, do you think, He did this? Indulging an over-developed flair for the dramatic perhaps? No? God's Word came from the bush but did not change it. How can a bush "burn" but not be burned up? He did this particular thing in this particular way for a particular reason, yes? Maybe to help us understand that God's Word would come into the world through the Theotokos and not "change" her as well? At least this seems to be the general concesus of the Fathers of the Church.

To me it is a Christological issue, and important that the Theotokos sustained an opening big enough for a baby to pass through.


And a bush physcally "burned" without being consumed.

I don't see it as a defiling thing in any way. I don't see that for any woman that childbirth "corrupts". But that puts me into disagreememnt wiith the Fathers who were so careful to show that Christ was fully man as well as fully God. It is puzzling.


One word: blood. Blood is generally associated with giving birth, since tissue ends up getting torn and bleeding generally results. However the miraculous birth was accomodated, it was done in in such a manner that no bleeding occured. Therefore, there was no ritual uncleanness involved, since there was no blood--hence she was "undefiled".

A God that can part the seas (make that which is impassible, passible, and then impassible again) can "open the virgin's womb" without tearing the flesh, don't you think?

At least that is how it seems to this bear of admittedly little brain.

Herman the passible Pooh

#16 Olga

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 04:09 PM

To add to Herman's post #14:

Indeed the Virgin is never referred to liturgically as a wife, only as a mother. It is also correct to regard as unseemly any approach by another man, and this would include St Joseph. This is not at all to denigrate or belittle Joseph, far from it. Consider Joseph's situation: Joseph would have been familiar with what we call OT scripture. Exodus in particular is stuffed full of terms and imagery which we know are prefigurations of the Mother of God. Mary bears the Root of Jesse, the Bread of Heaven (John 6), the Word of God (John 1). The Ark contains the rod of Aaron, Manna and the Law. Mary is the human Ark of the New Covenant, a constant motif in both liturgical language, and in the iconography of all the feasts of the Virgin (the four-posted structure with a domed roof).

Now, Joseph was a good Jew, he would have been brought up with a strong sense of the sacred. He would have been raised knowing the stories in scripture of people touching the Ark of the Covenant and suffering instant death. He would have also known that only the high priest dared enter the Holy of Holies of the Temple to offer the yearly sacrifice to the presence of God who "dwelt there". Undoubtedly at some stage Joseph would have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to realise the true meaning behind these images and stories from scripture, as well as the temple rituals.

Once the meaning of these became clear to him, how, then, could Joseph possibly consider marital relations with this woman, the living Tabernacle, the new Ark, the Holy of Holies, knowing that she has given birth to the Son of God? Not that sex is bad, evil or wrong between married couples, just as eating and cooking meat are not bad, evil, or wrong in themselves, but when put into service to God in the Temple, be it sacrificial animals, or, in the case of the daughter of Joachim and Anna who was dedicated to the Temple as a child, they became holy, and only the high priests could participate in the sacrifice.

Christ Himself is the great and eternal High Priest, the "prince who eats bread before the Lord" (Ezekiel 44). Good man that he was, Joseph would most likely have regarded himself as utterly unworthy to even be in the presence of such a treasure blessed by God, let alone consider sleeping with her.



#17 Eric Peterson

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 04:17 PM

"For when God so wills the order of nature is overthrown."

There is, as I recall, an anathema in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, against any who deny the ever-virginity of the Theotokos.

#18 Ruth Sammons

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 07:17 PM

Anathematised but back again, still with puzzlement. The Theotokos was the God-birth-giver. Jesus Christ was fully human and fully God, even in utero. To deny that a birth actually took place, in the way we understand the term "birth", is to deny that Christ was a fully human baby. We are talking incarnation here, so burning bushes and the like do not come into the picture. One either believes that a real little boy was born or not. Djinns "pop out" of bottles, not harming the bottles. that is not the sort of faith I care for. And that is probably where this idea came from. Syncretism. And to me it does not mix with Incarnation which I have affirmed many times.

#19 D. W. Dickens

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 07:31 PM

Anathematised but back again, still with puzzlement. The Theotokos was the God-birth-giver. Jesus Christ was fully human and fully God, even in utero. To deny that a birth actually took place, in the way we understand the term "birth", is to deny that Christ was a fully human baby. We are talking incarnation here, so burning bushes and the like do not come into the picture. One either believes that a real little boy was born or not. Djinns "pop out" of bottles, not harming the bottles. that is not the sort of faith I care for. And that is probably where this idea came from. Syncretism. And to me it does not mix with Incarnation which I have affirmed many times.


There in lies the paradox. He was fully God and His touch healed all infirmity, but He was truly man a child needing to pass through the birth canal. His mother was a human being in need of the Incarnation as any and ought to have been under the curse of Eve, yet the Incarnation was the remedy for that curse there present in the womb.

Yet I cannot find any Orthodox sources that say Ever-Virgin means anything but perpetual (importantly "uninterrupted") virginity. So when we sing or chant her honor in title during services of the Church we are attesting to it. Despite our own personal misgivings.

Early Christian stories of the midwives noting that her virginity was not harmed by the birth don't sway me, but that they swayed others I find places a certain demand on me.

#20 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 07:44 PM

If we must get graphic, so be it. Technically "virginity" is an intact hymen. A torn hymen is generally considered proof of the lack of virginity. What you seem to be questioning is the importance of "virginity", which the Church seems to teach is, in fact, important, if the hymnody is any indication. Christ was born "without breaking the seal" features prominately in that hymnody. Literally it means the hymen was not torn.

The Israelites crossed the sea without getting wet, the sea itself remained impassible after their passing. How does this NOT have something to do with the Incarnation? They were real people, it was a real sea, no djinns were popped in the making of this Scripture. If a bush can burn and not be consumed, if a people can cross an impassible sea without getting wet and it remain impassible, then why can't Christ be born without "harming" (and a torn hymen, I'm told, can be rather painful, and tearing flesh is generally considered "harm" by most accepted definitions of the word) the Theotokos? And why should this be an insurmountable issue?

Christ did not "pop" out of the Theotokos, but His birth did not "violate" or "harm" or "defile" or in any way affect the ever-Virginity of the Theotokos. This does not make Him less "man" but certainly acknowledged His Divinity. This is a clear teaching of the Church, whether it "mixes" or not. What you choose to do with that factoid is up to you I suppose.

Did the hymen of the Theotokos tear? In modesty and respect, should we even be asking the question? There is one tradition that says that one of the attending women at the Nativity did ask the question and wanted to physically check for herself. The tradition says that an angel cut off her fingers before she could "check". So, even Tradition itself does not provide any physical evidence, and perhaps we shouldn't have to know, beyond the very clear hymnody that very specifically says that "the seal was not broken". If that violates your concept of the Incarnation, I don't know what else to say other than it evidently does not violate the understanding of the Incarnation of the Church, FWIW.

Herman the not a poppin' Pooh

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 18 June 2010 - 07:50 PM.
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