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Kimberley Sachs wrote:

Hi, guys —

If Colossians 2:8 says

8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

  • Why does the Catholic Church teach that Mary was ever virgin from traditions that were supposedly practiced by early Christians?

It would seem to me that if the Bible is the basis for one's belief then the fact would be mentioned or proof would exist that it was so.

By the way, I was raised a good Irish Catholic but left the Church over 30 years ago.


  { Why does the Church teach, from Colossians, the "traditions of men" on many Marian teachings? }

Eric replied:

Kimberley —

If the bible is the basis of one's belief, what about 2 Thessalonians 2:15,

15 'Hold fast to the traditions you received from us, whether by word of mouth or by letter'?

  • I will address your question about Mary, but first let's address the question of where does this concept of restricting one's belief to what is written in the Bible come from, when it clearly isn't biblical?

After all, it is the "Church of the living God", "which is the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15), not the Bible.

The foundation of This Church is "the apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 2:20), not the Bible.

Here is an interesting saying of Jesus to contemplate:

"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach." (Matthew 23:2-3)

The idea of Moses' seat was a Jewish tradition. It is not found in the Old Testament. Jesus not only affirms the truth of it but binds his disciples to obey it so he did not reject all tradition.

In the New Testament, the Word of God is primarily portrayed as oral — something preached, something heard, something transmitted between people and not in a written form that everyone is free to interpret for themselves. For example:

"The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the word that was preached to you." 1 Peter 1:25

"And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe." (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

Which you heard from us — not which was written down exclusively. Not as the word of men, but as the Oral Word of God.

20 "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins," declares the Lord. 21 "As for me, this is my covenant with them,"says the Lord. "My Spirit, which is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,"says the Lord.

(Isaiah 59:20-21)

Note that this verse says that it will not depart from the mouths of the people of God — it does not say it will be written down and circulated in printed form for everyone to self-interpret.

"He who listens to you, listens to me; he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me" (Luke 10:16).

"Earnestly contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3)

Again, the faith is entrusted to human beings to pass on (tradition), not to a written book. Not that the book is not inspired and inerrant, but it is not synonymous with the deposit of faith.

Now, concerning Mary, the greatest biblical scholar of all time, St. Jerome (recognized as such even by Protestants), wrote an entire treatise defending the ever-virginity of Mary against Helvidius:

Treatise defending the ever-virginity of Mary against Helvidius by St. Jerome

We have also already addressed the question here several times:

Finally I will note that it was fitting that she be ever-virgin. Her womb was consecrated to God for the exclusive use of Jesus.

  • Why do I say this?

First of all, look at Revelation 11:19;12:1-5:

19 "Then God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

12 1 And a great sign appeared in Heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. 3 And another portent appeared in Heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of Heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; 5 she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron

So we see a few images here. The sky opens and the Ark of the Covenant is revealed. If you recall, the Ark was the gold box that held the original stone commandments or Ten Words (Decalogue) and the manna in the desert, where God was enthroned when the temple stood.

After it says the Ark appears, it refers to a woman clothed with the sun who gives birth to a child who is the rule all the nations with a rod of iron — Jesus. So the woman is, in at least one sense, Mary. She carries the Word of God (He who promulgates the New Law) and the new manna from Heaven (John 6). As God was enthroned and lived among his people on the cherubim of the old Ark, so Jesus — God — is enthroned and lives among his people in Mary's womb, making her the Ark of the New Covenant.

If you think this is a stretch, there are interesting parallels between:

  • David and the Ark of the New Covenant, and
  • Mary and Elizabeth.
  • So why does this make a difference?

Because the Ark was consecrated in such a holy way that no one could even touch it, much less put something common into it. Mary was consecrated to carry Jesus alone; no one else. Joseph would not dared have had relations with Mary because of that consecration. Uzzah died because he touched the ark of the Old Covenant (2 Samuel 6:6-10); Joseph did not want to suffer the same fate.


John replied:

Hi Kimberly,

Thank you for your question. Actually two very good questions: One about Tradition and the other about the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.

First, let's deal with the different kinds of traditions. Indeed Jesus Himself warned against the traditions of men that made void the Word of God.

But the word tradition simply means teachings or something handed down. Therefore God's Word is Tradition . . . it has been preserved and handed down. Moreover, it was compiled into one collection of books, based on the Traditions handed down by the Apostles to their successors, who in turn handed it down to their successors, and so on.

While all of Scripture was written by the end of the first century, exactly what was and wasn't Scripture wasn't decided until 382 A.D. at the Council of Rome. A decade or so later the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, affirmed the same 73-book canon but the first, Church-wide Ecumenical Council to affirm the Canon was the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 A.D, the last Church wide Council before the Church split into East and West.

  • There is no Scripture text within the Bible that gives us a list of books is there?

But there are Scriptures that talk about the authority of the Church and importance of Godly Tradition.

St. Paul tells Timothy the "pillar and foundation of the truth is the Church." (1 Timothy 3:15)

St Paul also writes to the Thessalonians:

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received from us."

(2 Thessalonians 3:6)

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

(2 Thessalonians 2:15)

One should particularly take note of this verse, because Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that God's Word or Instructions comes to us either in writing or by oral tradition.

So all traditions don't make void the Word of God, in fact without Tradition, we would not have the [Written] Word of God.

OK, Let's now talk about what Catholics consider Tradition with an uppercase T and traditions with a lower case t.

The uppercase Tradition is also called Sacred Tradition, Apostolic Tradition, Apostolic Teaching, etc. This is what we hold to as a matter of faith [and/or] morals handed down in some form from the beginning.

Then there are traditions or disciplines which are changeable things we do to express our faith or worship. They vary from what language we celebrate the Mass in to days we might fast. These aren't doctrinal matters; they exist for pastoral reasons and are often temporary.

Now to Mary. Some of the earliest Church's writings indicate that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. Indeed it is implicit in the text of the Annunciation if you look at it carefully and take off your Protestant glasses.

When Gabriel announced that Mary was to conceive, he puts it in the future tense. So she had no reason to ask how will this be. She was engaged or betrothed to Joseph. Mary was old enough to know the biology. She rightly would have assumed that she and Joseph would have child in a normal way. Yet she pauses and says how is this to be. I do not know man. Well at that point she didn't but, as I pointed out, she was about to relatively soon. If she intended to have a normal marriage, then the question makes no sense.

We know from history, that certain women were dedicated to the Temple to remain virgins. They were given old men to be husband protectors who would also support them but the women remained consecrated virgins.

Our Tradition is that Mary was such a woman and it is the only way her question to Gabriel makes a whole lot of sense.

Now there are some other texts you might want to point out to dispute our claim so let me address them.

The text says that Mary did not know Joseph until after Jesus was born. OK, in English, it does seem to imply that after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary had a normal marriage however the Greek word used in this text for until doesn't necessarily have such a meaning. It's the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Samuel when David's wife Michal mocks him. That text says she didn't have any more children until she died. (2 Samuel 6:20-23)

  • So does that mean she had children after she died?

The Bible also says Jesus shall reign until He has made His enemies His footstool.

(1 Corinthians 15:20-26)

  • So does that mean He will stop reigning once His enemies are underfoot?

Now let's deal with the so-called brothers and sisters of Jesus, mentioned in the Gospels.

Well, we need to understand that culture. Lot was Abraham's nephew, yet at one point he is referred to as Abraham's brother. The term brother was often used to mean any relative so it's possible they were simply cousins. Or they could have been sons and daughters of Joseph from a prior marriage. Joseph was significantly older than Mary, and probably widowed.

  • Does this definitively prove Mary's perpetual virginity from Scripture?

No, it does not but it certainly proves that doctrine doesn't oppose Scripture as you claim.

So it is certainly not a tradition that makes void God's Word which, as I've discussed, is a Tradition, to begin with.

We also know that all Christians follow the Tradition of monogamy even though it's not expressly taught in Scripture. In the Old Testament all the Patriarchs had multiple wives and in the Psalms David's many wives were called blessings from God so while we can read monogamy implicitly in texts like Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5, there is no clear cut text that says men can only have one wife.

In fact when Paul tells Timothy and Titus how to pick priests and bishops, he says pick men that only have one wife. From this, one could interpret that there were early believers from the Jewish tradition and other pagan traditions that had more than one wife and that they shouldn't be picked to be elders and overseers, meaning priests and bishops.

Yet all Christians today accept that polygamy is a sin. That is a Tradition but it's not explicit in the Bible.

  • Do you want to argue that this Tradition makes void the Word of God?

Warmly, Under His Mercy,

John DiMascio

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