Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, even after marrying Joseph. It would seem that Joseph and Mary, at their betrothal, had likely expected to have, and anticipated having marital relations with each other in marriage.

So, according to Roman Catholic teaching, when and how did Mary and Joseph learn that marital relations would be denied them? Did they just never desire that, or did they specifically have to battle the temptation? It admittedly seems strange to me that this would be withheld from them.

Is it even right to say they were not supposed to have marital relations? Or should it be said that they never even desired that?

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    Homer Simpson: A pregnant virgin? That's every man's worst nightmare! Apr 17, 2013 at 14:20
  • If your question is right how did Jesus have brother ans sisters? Matthew 13:53-56 "When Jesus had finished these illustrations, he departed from there. 54 After coming into his home territory, he began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said: “Where did this man get this wisdom and these powerful works? 55 Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And his sisters, are they not all with us?"
    – user43190
    Dec 23, 2018 at 19:17
  • @ethos says "If your question is right". There is no doubt that it is right. Perpetual virginity is Roman Catholic doctrine. The question is not asking if that doctrine is true, reasonable, justifiable, etc. The question explicitly asks for answers from the perspective of people that believe it to be true. Jan 2, 2019 at 21:47
  • Joseph and Mary, at their betrothal, had likely expected to have, and anticipated having marital relations with each other in marriage - Were that the case, Luke 1:34 would make little logical sense.
    – user46876
    Dec 23, 2019 at 9:40

5 Answers 5


For many the miracle of the Virgin Birth is one thing, but lifelong abstinence from sexuality is impossible to accept. The lives of monastics and ascetics around the world and throughout history attest to the fact that it is possible. Sexual purity is only one of many challenges set for these spiritual warriors, and for many, perhaps most of them, it is not the greatest.

Mary’s Vow of virginity was before the Annunciation:

Two important facts are depicted in this verse. First, already at this moment:

Mary is a virgin betrothed to Joseph, meaning that she is at the first stage of Jewish marriage. She is truly married to Joseph but not yet living with him, for she has not arrived at the second stage of marriage known as the "coming together," when husband and wife typically would begin to live in the same house and consummate the marriage.

Second, Mary has been told by Gabriel that at some time in the future she will bear a son who will be the royal Son of David, the Messiah-King. Notice the future tense: "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son" (Lk. 1:31, emphasis added). So far, Gabriel gives no indication that the conception will take place right now or in the immediate future. In fact, the timetable is quite open-ended. Without giving any time specification, the angel simply informs Mary that she will conceive this child at some time in the future.

In this light, Mary’s question seems rather peculiar: ... If Mary is planning on consummating her marriage with Joseph in the near future, the answer to her question should be obvious. While she does not right now have the power to conceive a child (since she doesn’t yet "know" man sexually), if Mary intends to know Joseph after the coming together, then she evidently will be able to have a child at that point. Therefore, if Mary is planning on consummating her marriage with Joseph, her question ... simply does not make sense. (source)

This view has been held by theologians such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure and even Martin Luther.

Luther wrote on the Virginity of Mary:

It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. ... Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact. (Weimer's The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510.)

Luther also wrote on February 2, 1546 that Mary was "a virgin before the conception and birth, she remained a virgin also at the birth and after it."

Calvin also upheld the perpetual virginity of Mary, as did the Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, who wrote:

I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin. (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424.)

Zwingly wrote in January of 1528: "I speak of this in the holy Church of Zurich and in all my writings: I recognize Mary as ever virgin and holy."

Reason for the belief that Mary was virgin after the birth of Jesus:

Pope St. Siricius said that God the Father reserved the womb of the Blessed Mother solely for his only-begotten Son. St. Ambrose and St. Thomas Aquinas assigned a spiritual meaning to Ezekiel 44:2:

"Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut." (Ezekiel 44:2).

Mary is the gate, and Jesus was the only one to enter it. This has always been interpreted by the Fathers of the Church to be a typological reference to the Virgin Mary and the Incarnation. When we consider that God took flesh from the Virgin's womb, it is not difficult to imagine that this womb would remain virgin. The place where the saviour of this world was nourished was not to be used by any one else.:-- Base source.

Further reading here and this source:

To say that they had sexual relation after birth of Jesus, Son of God, is to suggest something else that is greatly implausible...: that neither Mary nor her protector, Joseph, would have deemed it inappropriate to have sexual relations after the birth of God in the flesh. ... Mary became the vessel for the Lord of Glory Himself, and bore in the flesh Him whom heaven and earth cannot contain. Would this not have been grounds to consider her life, including her body, as consecrated to God and God alone?

Then Why Would Mary Marry?:

A variety of accounts have been offered:

  1. Perhaps since remaining a single woman was not as socially feasible in the ancient world of Judaism as it is today, marriage would have provided economic stability and social protection for Mary.
  2. Perhaps the marriage was arranged.
  3. Perhaps marriage would free Mary from other men seeking her hand in marriage and thus protect her vow.
  4. Perhaps God led Mary to marriage because in His providence, He wanted to protect her reputation for the future when she would conceive by the Holy Spirit. (source)

John Paul II wrote the following in a 1996 papal document:

We can wonder why she would accept betrothal, since she had the intention of remaining a virgin forever . . . It may be presumed that at the time of their betrothal there was an understanding between Joseph and Mary about the plan to live as a virgin. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, who had inspired Mary to choose virginity in view of the mystery of the Incarnation and who wanted the latter to come about in a family setting suited to the child’s growth, was quite able to instill in Joseph the ideal of virginity as well.

If Mary had told Joseph of her vow of virginity (as surely she must have), then we are led to conclude that, since Joseph agreed to marry her, he too must have made a vow of perpetual continence (i.e. to refrain from all sexual relations even within marriage).

Surely his wife's miraculous conception and birthgiving (confirmed by the angel in dream-visions) and the sight of God incarnate in the face of the child Christ would have been enough to convince him that his marriage was set apart from the norm. Within Mary's very body had dwelt the second Person of the Trinity. If touching the ark of the covenant had cost Uzzah his life, and if even the scrolls containing the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets were venerated, certainly Joseph, man of God that he was, would neither have dared nor desired to approach Mary, the chosen of Israel, the throne of God, to request his "conjugal rights"! (source)

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    Why would Joseph seek to marry a woman who had taken a vow of celibacy? That does not make sense.
    – user3961
    Apr 18, 2013 at 3:08
  • That's a valid point. I have edited the answer. Also when God's plans are at work everything seems to be falling in place by itself like matching of all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Apr 18, 2013 at 4:17
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    @fredsbend To protect, shelter, and care for her, out of a pure love for her, and not from a selfish desire to have intimate relations with her. That would have been unthinkable to Joseph, who was chosen by God to be His adoptive father. Much of what God does is not supposed to make sense.
    – Alypius
    Apr 18, 2013 at 4:45
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    So... all of this to suggest that Joseph and Mary knew they would not experience marital relationship before the angel announced to Mary that she would bear a child. Is that right? The answer does not seem to really answer that directly.
    – Narnian
    Apr 18, 2013 at 11:39
  • I might have elaborated it in more detail but it do suggest that in case of Mary. In case of Joseph it is a speculation. Ultimately as in the case of proving the existence of God, it is the belief and faith (and life experiences of it being true) that counts not the logical explanations or proofs. Apr 18, 2013 at 13:08

Mary, by her own free will, took a vow of virginity, and she understood that this meant that she was never supposed to have marital relations. Joseph knew when he was informed of Mary's vow. Both came to understand that marriage was their vocation, and became betrothed.

This knowledge has come down through tradition and Scripture. The following point is worth making:

As to Mary, St. Luke (1:34) tells us that she answered the angel announcing the birth of Jesus Christ: "how shall this be done, because I know not man". These words can hardly be understood, unless we assume that Mary had made a vow of virginity; for, when she spoke them, she was betrothed to St. Joseph. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Such a vow would have served the religious purpose of bringing the one making it closer to God. Indeed, of all people, Mary was and is closest to Jesus. She was first to know of His Incarnation, He was born of her, raised by her; her soul was pierced (Luke 2:34-35) with grief at His passion and death.

One might ask why Mary consented to her betrothal, though she was bound by her vow of virginity. As she had obeyed God's inspiration in making her vow, so she obeyed God's inspiration in becoming the affianced bride of Joseph. Besides, it would have been singular among the Jews to refuse betrothal or marriage; for all the Jewish maidens aspired after marriage as the accomplishment of a natural duty. Mary trusted the Divine guidance implicitly, and thus was certain that her vow would be kept even in her married state. (ibid)

Pope John Paul II writes that Mary and Joseph would have understood Mary's intention at the time they were betrothed. On the difficulty of understanding Mary's inner motivations for accepting, he writes:

We can wonder why she would accept betrothal, since she had the intention of remaining a virgin forever. Luke is aware of this difficulty, but merely notes the situation without offering any explanation. The fact that the Evangelist, while stressing Mary's intention of virginity, also presents her as Joseph's spouse, is a sign of the historical reliability of the two pieces of information. (source)

Some seem to object to the idea that two persons could be married if marital relations were, by the consent and duty of both persons, out of the question. I have been unable to find any basis in tradition or Scripture for this view that such a marriage would be forbidden or even undesirable. God chose a couple in a certain especially pious and provably obedient state of marriage. This makes perfect sense to me and to Catholics in general.

As for the other part of the question, it invites those answering to speculate on temptations and desires, which by their very nature are private. Their marriage was pure, Mary was without sin, and Joseph was her most chaste spouse. What more can be said, and what more needs to be said?

Mary and Joseph were brought together by God's will, and became the mother and the foster-father of Jesus Christ. Both were aware of Mary's vow of virginity, and of what that vow meant for their marriage.

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    I have never heard this before--that Mary had taken a vow of celibacy prior to be betrothed. Wow.
    – Narnian
    Apr 18, 2013 at 11:49
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    Very good answer - I'd forgotten about the presumed (or inferred) celibacy vow. I'm not sure it's dogmatic, but I think it's simple, sufficient, and to the point. +1
    – svidgen
    Apr 18, 2013 at 15:33
  • @Narnian A minor note: Mary's vow was a vow of virginity, which would have placed her in the tradition of being a consecrated virgin. A vow of celibacy often has a slightly different meaning.
    – Alypius
    Apr 18, 2013 at 18:49
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    Don't you thnk you're reading too much into this interation between Mary and the angel, Plainly, the angel says tells her she will become pregnant, have a son, and the son shall be, etc. Mary answers, how can I since I have not slept with a man, it's just the common sense question, she's a virgin at the announcement of her conceiving Jesus, so she answers, how can I conceive Jesus since I haven't been with a man? Simple really.
    – Hello
    Dec 7, 2014 at 4:10

The book of Matthew 1:24-25, says

"24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her first born son: and he called his name JESUS."

The above passage told us the extent to which Joseph deprived himself of intimacy (verse 25) and there was nowhere in the Bible where Joseph was told to never touch her neither did the Bible say he didn't!
Rather Matthew 13:54-56 clearly mentioned Jesus' mother Mary, his father's profession (carpenter) and his brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas. Sister's were not mentioned naturally as the Jews give less attention to that. These were immediate family blood relations and not extended families.

If God had no desire for Joseph to be intimate with Mary, there would have been no need for marriage. The main reason for the whole 'drama' haven fulfilled, Joseph and Mary lived their normal lives.

I believe the Bible was silent about Jesus' family because that was not the focus of the scriptures and this is proven in Mark 15:40 where Mary and her children were mentioned in relation to Matthew 13:55.


According to Catholic teaching, openness to having children is required for a valid marriage:

1917 Can. 1081 § 2
Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which each party gives and accepts perpetual and exclusive rights to the body, for those acts that are of themselves suitable for the generation of children.

Explaining how Sts. Mary and Joseph had a valid marriage, despite intending to remain virgins, St. Thomas Aquinas writes (Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 30 q. 2 a. 1 qc. 2 ad 2):

Before the Blessed Virgin contracted [marriage] with Joseph, she was divinely certain that Joseph held the same intention [to preserve virginity]; and thus no danger is committed marrying. Nor because of this is any truth diminished, because that proposition was not conditionally applied in the consent*; when such a condition be against a marriage good (e.g., procreating children), it would invalidate the marriage.

beata virgo antequam contraheret cum Joseph, fuit certificata divinitus quod Joseph in simili proposito erat; et ideo non se commisit periculo nubens. Nec tamen propter hoc aliquid veritati deperiit, quia illud propositum non fuit conditionaliter in consensu appositum: talis enim conditio cum sit contra matrimonii bonum, scilicet prolem procreandam, matrimonium tolleret.

*i.e., they didn't say: "I will marry you provided we both remain virgins."

cf. Ford S.J.'s Validity of Virginal Marriage


Church has witnessed to the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos steadfastly for two thousand years and shows no sign of tiring. In the West, the idea was largely undisputed until late in the Reformation; even Luther and Calvin accepted the tradition.

Indeed, to suggest (a) that the tradition about her perpetual virginity could have been introduced after apostolic times, (b) that this tradition would have gone little noticed by a Church in the throes of questioning everything about what it believed in the first millennium, (c) that such a novel tradition should be considered inconsequential enough to pass without discussion before it became universally proclaimed, and (d) that such a tradition should have no discernible literary or geographical origin and yet be universally accepted from very early in the Church's history, is to form a very unlikely hypothesis.

Set Apart to God

To argue against Mary's perpetual virginity is to suggest something else that is greatly implausible, not to say unthinkable: that neither Mary nor her protector, Joseph, would have deemed it inappropriate to have sexual relations after the birth of God in the flesh. Leaving aside for a moment the complete uniqueness of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, recall that it was the practice for devout Jews in the ancient world to refrain from sexual activity following any great manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Source: goarcch.org

  • I like where you answer is heading, but you stop short of what we really need: citations, quotes, etc. You give a plain source, but it's just not enough.
    – user3961
    Dec 26, 2018 at 19:40

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