I understand that the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is the eternal virgin in that she neither had sexual relations with Joseph (or any other man) either before or after the miraculous conception of Jesus.

What Biblical evidence does the Catholic Church cite in support of this doctrine? Is there any other non-Biblical evidence for this?


2 Answers 2


From paragraph 499 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it."And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the "Ever-virgin".

The direct precedent is Canon 6 from the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 CE. The only source of this I know of is Denzinger's Sources of Catholic Dogma, a compilation of a ton of loose documents. Unfortunately, this is not available online in English, so you'll have to bear with the Latin. In paragraph 427:

Si quis abusive et non vere Dei genitricem dicit sanctam gloriosam semper Virginem Mariam, vel secundum relationem, quasi homine puro nato, sed non Deo Verbo incarnato et nato ex ipsa, referenda autem, sicut illi dicunt, hominis nativitate ad Deum Verbum, eo quod cum homine erat nascente, et calumniatur sanctam Chalcedonensem Synodum, tamquam secundum istum impium intellectum, quem Theodorus exsecrandus adinvenit, Dei genitricem Virginem dicentem, vel qui hominis genitricem vocat, aut Christotocon, id est, Christi genitricem, tamquam si Christus Deus non esset, et non proprie et vere Dei genitricem ipsam confitetur, eo quod ipse qui ante saecula ex Patre natus est Deus Verbum, in ultimis diebus ex ipsa incarnatus et natus est, et sic pie et sanctam Chalcedonensem Synodum eam esse confessam, talis an. s.

Here, the council decrees that anyone speaking against the Holy and Glorious ever-virgin Mary shall be anathema.

This was again affirmed in the Lateran Council of 649, from paragraph 503:

Si quis secundum sanctos Patres non confitetur proprie et secundum veritatem Dei genitricem sanctam semperque Virginem et immaculatam Mariam, utpote ipsum Deum Verbum specialiter et veraciter, qui a Deo Patre ante omnia saecula natus est, in ultimis saeculorum absque semine concepisse ex Spiritu Sancto, et incorruptibiliter eam (eum?) genuisse, indissolubili permanente et post partum eiusdem virginitate, condemnatus sit

The Catholic Encyclopedia also mentions several Church Fathers who spoke of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

At the time of the early Church, the burden of proof was on those to show that Mary was not ever-virgin, as it was commonly held to be true. Just for the sheer theatrical aspect of it, I particularly like St. Jerome's response to Helvidius, one who shared many of the objections held today about the perpetual virginity of Mary. In his response, he dissected the argument word by word and found the conclusion that Mary was not perpetually virgin did not necessarily follow from Biblical evidence:

Yet it does not follow, as the previous examples showed, that he had intercourse with Mary after her delivery, when his desires had been quenched by the fact that she had already conceived.

In terms of direct Biblical evidence of the perpetual virginity of Mary, St. Jerome and later St. Augustine used Luke 1:34 as evidence of a pledge by Mary to never "know" a man:

And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

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.

Please see also: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary by Dr. Robert Schihl | EWTN.

  • How on earth do the Catholic church suppose then that Jesus came to have earthly brothers? Mark 3:31-35. It's obvious that Mary had brothers after the birth of Jesus.
    – hookenz
    Sep 10, 2013 at 21:11
  • @Matt simple: they don't. The Catholic Church says he didn't have biological brothers, just spiritual brothers. Kind of like all those honorary aunties so many of us grew up having.
    – maco
    Oct 21, 2014 at 20:30
  • For an English translation of Canon 6 of Constantinpole II, see papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum05.htm. For the text from the Lateran council, see ewtn.com/library/SCRIPTUR/virbir.htm. (When you get a chance, the Sources of Catholic Dogma were compiled by Denzinger, not "Danzinger.") Oct 23, 2014 at 16:42
  • @Matt: Also, the Greek term for "brother" (adelphos) has a broader meaning than in English, at least in the rather Semitic-sounding Greek that the New Testament used. For example, Acts 1:15 (ESV) says, "In those days Peter stood up among the brothers [Gk. adelphoi] (the company of persons was in all about 120)." So "brother" could easily mean any male relative ("brothers" in the plural could even refer to a group of relatives of both sexes), or else, as in this case, the disciples gathered around the Apostles. Oct 23, 2014 at 16:51
  • 2
    @Matt: They are certainly Jesus' relatives, but there is nothing in the text that proves they are Mary's own sons. I am not saying that this passage definitively proves Catholics' and Orthodox Christians' belief in Mary's perpetual virginity, but neither is it in contradiction. Oct 23, 2014 at 19:36

Biblical Evidence

  • The bible does not indicate Mary had other children after Jesus.

    • When Matthew 13:55 (as well as Mark 6:3, John 7:3-5, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5, and Galations 1:19) speak of the "brothers" of Christ, the greek word used is 'adelphos'.
    • The Old Testament that Jesus and the New Testament authors used was the Septuagint (greek translation). We know this because of quirks in the translation that carried over in New Testament quotations of the Old Testament. One example: In Matthew 21:16, Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2 with the words "ordained praise". The Septuagint translation of Psalm 8:2 says "ordained praise", while the Masoretic text (Hebrew Old Testament) says "ordained strength".
    • In the Septuagint, the greek word 'adelphos' is used as relative (Gen 14:14, Gen 29:15), as well as close friends (2 Samuel 1:26, 1 Kings 9:13), as well as allies (Amos 1:9). As this was the Old Testament Jesus frequently used, it's reasonable to assume he'd use words in the same way.
  • The bible DOES indicate Jesus had an aunt, and thus cousins

    • Jerome in 383 AD identifies the brothers of Christ as his cousins. The biblical case goes like this:
      • John 19:25 tells us that Mary mother of Jesus had a sister named Mary of Clopas (who was Jesus' aunt)
      • Mark 15:40 (and Matthew 27:55-56) tells us that Mary of Clopas was mother of James the less and Joseph.
      • Jude 1 speaks of "Jude, the brother of James". This is likely the Jude who is son of Mary of Clopas, brother of James.
      • Matthew 13:55 identifies James and Joseph and Simon and Judas as 'adelphos' of Christ. We see James and Joseph are his cousins through Mary of Clopas, so it follows that Simon and Judas are likely also children of Mary of Clopas.
    • This wiki lays out the full biblical case, supplementing it with historical records
  • In places where one would expect Scripture to mention the brothers of Christ, they are missing.

    • In Luke 2:41-51, when Jesus went to the temple at the age of 12, there is no mention of other children in his family.
    • In John 19:26-27, while on the cross Jesus gave Mary into John's care. If Mary had other sons, it seems strange and out of character that Jesus would have gone out of his way to disregard family ties and commit a grave dishonor to his brothers by entrusting his mother to another man.
    • In Mark 6:3, even when Jesus is referred to as the son of Mary, Jesus' brothers are never referred to that way (here or elsewhere).

Thus, the bible allows for the doctrine.

The bible doesn't have much to explicitly promote the doctrine, other than this prophecy in Ezekiel that Ambrose of Milan speaks of, saying "Who is this gate, if not Mary?"

Ezekiel 44:2 "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".

Historical Evidence - the church has always believed it

Catholics do not hold to the idea that the Bible is the sole authority. The fact that the church has always held this belief, up to (and through) the Reformation is an important proof as well.

  • ~100 AD: Ignatius of Antioch
  • ~150 AD: Polycarp (disciple of John the Apostle)
  • ~160 AD: Justin Martyr
  • ~200 AD: Irenaeus

    In the year AD 383, Jerome writes that Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus all “held these same views” of Mary’s perpetual virginity and “wrote volumes replete with wisdom” (in his The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius, section 19)

  • 248 AD: Origen

    "Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus" [Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John (Book I), Section 6]

  • 354 AD: Hilary of Poitiers

    "If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary's sons and not those taken from Joseph's former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, 'Woman, behold your son,' and to John, 'Behold your mother' [John 19:26-27], as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate" [Hilary's Commentary on Matthew 1:4]

  • 360 AD: Athanasius

    Identifies Mary as "Mary Ever-Virgin" in his Discourse 2 Against the Arians, Section 70

  • 373 AD: Ephrem

    "Because there are those who dare to say that Mary cohabited with Joseph after she bore the Redeemer, we reply, 'How would it have been possible for her who was the home of the indwelling of the Spirit, whom the divine power overshadowed, that she be joined by a mortal being, and gave birth filled with birthpangs, in the image of the primeval curse?'" [Ephrem's Commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron]

  • ~375 AD: Basil of Caesarea

    "...the lovers of Christ do not allow themselves to hear that the Mother of God ceased at a given moment to be a virgin..." [Basil’s Homily: On the holy generation of Christ 5; PG 31, 1468 B]

  • 375 AD: Epiphanius

    "For I have heard from someone that certain persons are venturing to say that [Mary] had marital relations after the Savior’s birth. And I am not surprised. The ignorance of persons who do not know the sacred scriptures well and have not consulted histories, always turn them to one thing after another, and distracts anyone who wants to track down something about the truth out of his own head.” [The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: De fide. Books II and III, page 620, 7.1]

  • 383 AD: Jerome

    In his The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius he gives a long, full biblical defense of Mary's perpetual virginity, noted in earlier sections in this answer.

  • 386 AD: Didymus the Blind

    "Mary... remained always and forever an immaculate virgin" [Didymus's The Trinity 3:4]

  • 388 AD: Ambrose of Milan

    Ezekiel 44:2 "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". In De Institutione Virginum 8.52, Ambrose says of this prophecy: "Who is this gate, if not Mary?"

  • 401 AD: Augustine

    "A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?" [Augustine, Sermons 186:1]

  • 426 AD: Leporius

    Identifies Mary as "ever-virgin Mary" in Document of Amendment 3

  • 430 AD: Cyril of Alexandria

    "the Word himself... kept his Mother a virgin even after her childbearing" [Against Those Who Do Not Wish to Confess That the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God 4]

  • ~440 AD: Peter Chrysologus

    "A Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and a Virgin she remains." [Sermon 117 "The First Adam, and the Last Adam, Born of a Virgin"]

  • 553 AD: Second Council of Constantinople

    "Mary, Mother of God and always a virgin" [The Capitula of the Council, #2]

  • 649 AD: Lateran Council

    "and after His birth preserved her virginity inviolate" [Oct, 649, DS 503]

  • 749 AD: John Damascene

    "Thus the Ever-Virgin remains after birth a Virgin still, never having consorted with man" [The Source of Knowledge, 3, 4, 14]

  • ~1270 AD: Thomas Aquinas

    "Without any hesitation we must abhor the error of Helvidius, who dared to assert that Christ's Mother, after His Birth, was carnally known by Joseph, and bore other children." [Summa Theologiae, Third Part, Question 28, Article 3]

  • 1522 AD: Zwingli, father of the reformation

    "I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity." [sermon entitled "Mary, ever virgin, mother of God"]

  • 1539 AD: Martin Luther, father of the reformation

    “Christ... was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him" [Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4]

  • 1562 AD: John Calvin, father of the reformation

    "Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ's 'brothers' are sometimes mentioned." [Commentary on Mark, Chapter 6, Verse 3]

  • 1749 AD: John Wesley, founder of Methodism

    "I believe that He [Jesus] was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin." [Wesley, Letter to a Roman Catholic]

  • 1
    Though there is some good information here, it seems to be a general answer to the question of the basis for the doctrine of the eternal virginity of Mary, rather than the specific question asked, which is the Catholic Church's basis for that doctrine. Presumably Catholicism does not base its doctrine on the various Protestant theologians mentioned at the end of the answer. And though the rest certainly could be part of a Catholic basis, the answer provides few references to Catholic sources demonstrating that these are part of the Catholic basis for this doctrine. Nov 19, 2017 at 22:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .