The Mother of  the Savior
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.
Nihil Obstat  and Imprimi Potest 1941 and 1948


Article 4 of The Divine Maternity
and the Plenitude of Grace


The Church teaches three truths concerning Mary's virginity; that she was a virgin in conceiving Our Savior, that she was a virgin in giving Him birth, and that she remained a virgin her whole life through. The first two truths were defended against the Corinthians and the Ebionites towards the end of the 1st century; against Celsus, who was refuted by Origen; in the 16th century against the Socinians, whom Paul IV and Clement VIII condemned; and recently against the rationalists --- Strauss, Renan, and the Pseudo --- Herzog in particular. [21] The second truth was attacked by Jovinian, Who was condemned in 390. The third truth was denied by Helvidius and defended by St. Jerome. [22]

The Virginal Conception

   Mary's virginity in the conception of her Son was foretold by Isaias (Is. vii, 14): ' A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.' The virginal conception is clearly the literal sense of this text; otherwise, as St. Justin pointed out to Tryphon, [23] there would be no question of a sign, as Isaias had promised. Gabriel also gave testimony to the virginal conception at the Annunciation: 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.' The message given by the Angel to St. Joseph is to the same effect: 'Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary, thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost' (Matt. i, 20). And St. Luke says of Jesus: '. . . being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph' (Luke iii, 23).

Tradition confirms that the conception of Christ was virginal, as can be learned from the testimonies of St. Ignatius the Martyr, Aristides, St. Justin, Tertullian, St. Irenaeus. All the creeds teach that the Son of God made flesh 'was conceived by the Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost'. [24] It was defined by the Lateran Council under Pope Martin I in 649 [25] and it was reaffirmed by Paul IV against the Socinians. [26]

The arguments which show the appropriateness of the virginal conception are exposed by St. Thomas [27]: l --- It is appropriate that He Who is the natural Son of God should have no father on earth, but only in heaven; 2 --- The Word, conceived eternally in the most complete purity, should be conceived virginally when being made flesh; 3 --- That the human nature of the Savior be exempt from original sin it was appropriate that it should not be formed by the ordinary process of human generation, but virginally; 4 --- By being born of a virgin Christ showed that His members should be born by the Spirit of His virginal and spiritual spouse, the Church.

The Virginal Birth

   St. Ambrose bears witness to the virginal birth when commenting on the text of Isaias: 'A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son;' she will be a virgin, he says, in giving birth as well as in conceiving. [28] The same had been said earlier by St. Ignatius the Martyr, [29] Aristides, [30] Clement of Alexandria. [31] It was defined by the Lateran Council. [32]

St. Thomas gives the following arguments to show the appropriateness of the virginal birth: I --- The Word, Who is conceived and Who proceeds eternally from the Father without any corruption of His substance; should, if He becomes flesh, be born of a virgin mother without detriment to her virginity; 2 --- He Who came to remove all corruption should not by His birth destroy the virginity of her who bore Him; 3 --- He Who commands us to honor our parents should not Himself diminish by His birth the glory of His holy mother.

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary after the Savior's Birth

The Lateran Council affirmed this point of doctrine in 649, as did Paul IV later against the Socinians. [33]

Among the Greek Fathers two deserve special mention as having explicitly taught it: Origen [34] and St. Gregory the Wonder worker. [35] The expression semper virgo --- 'always a virgin' --- is common in the 4th century, especially in the works of St. Athanasius and Didymus the Blind. [36] It was also used by the 2nd Council of Constantinople. [37] The Latin Fathers are represented by Saints Ambrose [38], Augustine [39], and Jerome [40]. St. Ephrem voices the mind of the Syriac Church. [41]

St. Thomas's arguments to show the appropriateness of the perpetual virginity are as follows (IlIa, q. 28, a. 3): I --- Helvidius' error is opposed to the dignity of Christ Himself, for just as He is the only Son in eternity of the Father so also He ought to be the only Son in time of the Virgin; 2 --- It is opposed also to the dignity of the Holy Ghost who sanctified once and for ever the virginal womb of Mary; 3 --- It is opposed to the dignity and holiness of the Mother of God as it would imply that she was dissatisfied with having borne such a Son; 4 --- Finally, St. Joseph would have been guilty of the greatest presumption had he violated the virginity of her whom he knew, by the Angel, to have conceived of the Holy Ghost. [42]

   St. Thomas explains also (IIIa, q. 28, a. 4) the, commonly accepted teaching that the Blessed Virgin had taken a vow of perpetual virginity. Her words to the Angel prove the point: 'How shall this be done, because I know not man?' Tradition is summed up in the phrase of St. Augustine's: 'Virgo es, sancta es, votum vovisti.' [43]

21. Cf. Denzinger. nos. 20, 91, 113, 143 sqq., 201, 214, 255 sqq., 282, 290, 344, 429, 462, 708, 735, 993, 1314,1462.
22. De perpetua virginitate B. Mariae adversus Helvidium. P. L., XXIII. 183-205.
23. Dial. cum Tryphone. LXXXIV; P. G., VI. 673.
24. Denz., 6 sqq.
25. Denz., 256.
26. Denz., 993.
27. Illa. q. 28, a. I.
28. Epist. XLII ad Siricium Papam, P. L., XVI, 1124: 'Non enim concepturam tantum inodo virginem. sed et parituram (Isaias) dixit.'
29. Ad Ephes., xv, I.
30. Ex vita Barlaa,n et Josaphat, P. G., XCVI, 1121.
31. Strom., VII, xvi; P. G., IX, 529.
32. Denz., 256; item 993.
33. Denz., 256; 993.
34. In Matt., t. X, xvii; P. G., XIII, 876 B; Homil. VII in Luc.; P. G., XIII, 1818.
35. Serm. in Nativit. Christi; P. G., X, 391.
36. St. Athanas., Orat. II contra Arianos, LXX; P. G., XXVI, 296; Didymus, De Trinitate, I. xxvii; P. G., XXXIX, 404.
37. Denz., 214, 218.
38. Epist. XLII ad Siricium Papam; P. L., XVI, 1124.
39. Serm. III in Natali Domini, n. I; P. L., XXXVIII, 995.
40. De perpetua virginitate B. Mariae adversus Helvidium.
41. S. Ephrem Syri opera, ed. Rom., 1743, t. II, p. 267.
42. Those mentioned in the New Testament as brothers of the Lord were merely relatives, as tradition has always taught. The Hebrew word corresponding to 'brother' signified near relative, and was used to cover cousins, nephews, etc. Cf. Gen, xiii, 8; xiv, 6. Cf. A. Durand, Freres du Seigneur in Dict. Apol.
43. Sermo CCCX in Natali joannis Rapt.; P. L., XXXVIII, 1319.


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