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I tried this question earlier and it was closed due to so many other similar questions but, having looked through I didn't find an answer.

What, if any, is the salvific benefit of the perpetual virginity of Mary? In other words, having been born of a virgin according to prophesy and all other parts of the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coming again of Christ remaining the same, is our salvation in Christ lessened in some way if Mary has moral and lawful intercourse with her husband?

  • How do you know there is any salvific benefit? – curiousdannii Jan 13 at 23:48
  • @curiousdannii My original question said, 'what if any' so I edited that in to the question just now. – Mike Borden Jan 14 at 11:31
  • @DJClayworth I am asking if the perpetual virginity of Mary adds to our salvation in Christ. – Mike Borden Jan 15 at 21:07
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Ken Graham’s fulsome answer deals almost entirely with the ‘perpetual virginity’ of Mary but I am concerned to look at the claimed role of Mary in salvation because, whether or not Mary remained a virgin after giving birth to Jesus Christ, your question deals with a biblical doctrine – salvation – whereas there is no biblical doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. The Bible is at pains to stress that Mary was a virgin when the miraculous conception took place, but is silent on such intimate matters with regard to Mary thereafter. It also has nothing to say on Mary having any part, or role, whatsoever in salvation. We may misunderstand how salvation is bestowed if we misunderstand Mary’s biblical place in the divine scheme of things. There is no mention of her being in any way involved in salvation in the early Church.

From a Roman Catholic “Encyclopedia of Theology” edited by Karl Rahner, pages 896-7, under the heading ‘Mariology’ it is shown that Mary is contrasted with Eve. As Eve's disobedience brought ruin, the faith and obedience of Mary brought salvation. Mary's claimed role in the history of salvation is compared with that of the Catholic Church. The absolute sinlessness of Mary was taught for the first time by Pelagius and Augustine, then expanded into the freedom from original sin which was then attributed to Mary. Catholic teaching is that Mary plays a vital role in bringing salvation to sinners. This Catholic Encylopedia which I consulted states that Mary:

“…became, as Pius XII said (Constitution Ad caeli reginam, 11 October 1954: DS 3913-17), “Queen of Heaven”. This title… indicates the lofty position of Mary in the divine economy and in the historical course of salvation…

Mary entered into the process of salvation through her faith… By her Fiat to the divine message Mary contributed to salvation, just as Eve had done to man’s ruin (Lumen Gentum, art. 56). This does not mean that God made his plan of salvation dependent on Mary’s consent but that according to the eternal plan of salvation man for his part was to assent to his salvation, through divine grace. Humanity’s Yes to God and to Christ the saviour is summed up in Mary. In her Fiat of faith, she received salvation for all... Mary was the primary recipient of this salvation, which she took to herself in the most excellent way, not only for herself in individualistic isolation but with a willingness and an openness which were orientated to all men. Her personal appropriation of salvation has ecclesiastical significance. The salvation of Christ is concretely embodied in the sacrament of the Church, as Lumen Gentium affirms (art. 59). Salvation is present and accessible in the Church, and Mary is the first and most privileged member of the Church…

Vatican II avoided speaking of her universal mediation of grace. But the truth behind such terms is taught with reserve, while the mediatorship of Christ is strongly stressed and all Mary s activity is seen exclusively in the perspective of Christ. If, nonetheless, the mediatorship of Mary is affirmed, this is in order to bring out a fundamental thought from the Bible, the solidarity of all men. Men do not receive salvation as individuals, or monads in isolation from each other, but as social beings. Each one who receives the gift of salvation becomes himself a source of salvation. The good of one is fertile in good things for the other. This general principle holds good for Mary in a special and comprehensive way. Hence Mary’s mediatorship is to be understood on the level of the solidarity of all mankind which is in need of redemption, to which she herself belongs, and not on that of the one and only saviour.

In the light of the thesis that Mary's glorified existence is that of intercession, and that this is essential for her, the much discussed question of whether Mary's function is sacramental or petitionary seems to be given too much superficial prominence... The function of Mary in salvation determines her relation to the Church... Mary is mother of the Church under this more individualistic aspect, since she is effectively concerned for the salvation of each individual.” (pages 898-901)

It is seen that arriving at the teaching of Mary’s role in salvation is dependent on many stepping stones being added over time to the doctrine of Mary. There is no mention of her being in any way involved in salvation in the early Church. Only at the beginning of the 3rd century did Hippolytus of Rome give her the title of Deipara (the bringer-forth of God). That was changed later to Theotokos (Mother of God), the Encyclopedia commenting that:

“It was a term which brought out better than Deipara the fact that Mary’s function was not merely physiological but also spiritual and personal. It paved the way for the concept of Mary as the spiritual mother of all the faithful… As regards the perpetual virginity of Mary there was no fully general consensus before the Council of Ephesus. [431]” (p 896)

Whatever part Mary’s claimed perpetual virginity plays in any role of salvation, it could not have been significant if it was not settled by Catholic theologians until 431. It follows that if that, and any other stepping-stones along the path of Mary’s elevation to eventually being viewed as a co-Redemptrix in salvation is misplaced, there will be a need to ask more questions.

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  • St. Irenaus (who was most likely a 3rd generation Christian success of St. John, in the 2nd century AD) called her the cause of our salvation – Peter Turner Jan 14 at 17:51
  • Well, Peter, if Irenaus did, then I would have to disagree with him, given what the Bible says on the matter! – Anne Jan 16 at 10:19
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What does the perpetual virginity of Mary add to our salvation?

It makes Mary the Mother of the Church and the spiritual Mother of all mankind. The perpetual virginity of Mary is a complement to the redemptive work of her Son, Jesus who is called the Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks thus about Mary’s virginity and motherhood:

Mary's divine motherhood

495 Called in the Gospels "the mother of Jesus", Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as "the mother of my Lord". In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly "Mother of God" (Theotokos).

Mary's virginity

496 From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, affirming also the corporeal aspect of this event: Jesus was conceived "by the Holy Spirit without human seed". The Fathers see in the virginal conception the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own. Thus St. Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century says:

You are firmly convinced about our Lord, who is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, Son of God according to the will and power of God, truly born of a virgin,. . . he was truly nailed to a tree for us in his flesh under Pontius Pilate. . . he truly suffered, as he is also truly risen. The Gospel accounts understand the virginal conception of Jesus as a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and possibility: "That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit", said the angel to Joseph about Mary his fiancee. The Church sees here the fulfillment of the divine promise given through the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son."

498 People are sometimes troubled by the silence of St. Mark's Gospel and the New Testament Epistles about Jesus' virginal conception. Some might wonder if we were merely dealing with legends or theological constructs not claiming to be history. To this we must respond: Faith in the virginal conception of Jesus met with the lively opposition, mockery or incomprehension of non-believers, Jews and pagans alike; so it could hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology or by some adaptation to the ideas of the age. The meaning of this event is accessible only to faith, which understands in it the "connection of these mysteries with one another" in the totality of Christ's mysteries, from his Incarnation to his Passover. St. Ignatius of Antioch already bears witness to this connection: "Mary's virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord's death escaped the notice of the prince of this world: these three mysteries worthy of proclamation were accomplished in God's silence."

Mary - "ever-virgin"

499 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".

500 Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, "brothers of Jesus", are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls "the other Mary". They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.

501 Jesus is Mary's only son, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all men whom indeed he came to save: "The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, that is, the faithful in whose generation and formation she co-operates with a mother's love."

Mary's virginal motherhood in God's plan

502 The eyes of faith can discover in the context of the whole of Revelation the mysterious reasons why God in his saving plan wanted his Son to be born of a virgin. These reasons touch both on the person of Christ and his redemptive mission, and on the welcome Mary gave that mission on behalf of all men.

503 Mary's virginity manifests God's absolute initiative in the Incarnation. Jesus has only God as Father. "He was never estranged from the Father because of the human nature which he assumed. . . He is naturally Son of the Father as to his divinity and naturally son of his mother as to his humanity, but properly Son of the Father in both natures."

504 Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary's womb because he is the New Adam, who inaugurates the new creation: "The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven." From his conception, Christ's humanity is filled with the Holy Spirit, for God "gives him the Spirit without measure." From "his fullness" as the head of redeemed humanity "we have all received, grace upon grace."

505 By his virginal conception, Jesus, the New Adam, ushers in the new birth of children adopted in the Holy Spirit through faith. "How can this be?" Participation in the divine life arises "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God". The acceptance of this life is virginal because it is entirely the Spirit's gift to man. The spousal character of the human vocation in relation to God is fulfilled perfectly in Mary's virginal motherhood.

506 Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith "unadulterated by any doubt", and of her undivided gift of herself to God's will. It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Savior: "Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ."

507 At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church: "the Church indeed. . . by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By preaching and Baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life. She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse."

Mary desires no less than the salvation of all sinners. In this sense her spiritual maternity is a compliment to her Son’s redemptive actions on the Cross. Mary desires that the fruit of her Divine Son’s Passion and Death be to the greatest possible efficaciousness.

We should remember that it was her Divine Son, Jesus, who gave us the eminent gift of his Mother even as he was dying on the cross: “Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19:27).

Saint John Paul II reminds us, “From the time when ‘the disciple took her to his own home,’ the mystery of the spiritual motherhood of Mary has been actualized boundlessly in history. Motherhood means caring for the life of the child. Since Mary is the mother of us all, her care for the life of man is universal” he said.

We can all understand the universal care of our Mother in Heaven for us or, at the very least, the longing for that spiritual motherly care in our lives. The Blessed Mother’s love and care is especially healing for those whose own biological mothers were unwilling or unable to provide authentic self-giving love. Mother Mary loves us all with a pure, selfless, and steadfast motherly love. She tirelessly calls to our hearts and souls. Her utmost aim is to bring us to her Son.

Mother Mary’s care is rooted in the Holy Spirit. Saint John Paul II tells us, “The care of a mother embraces her child totally. Mary’s motherhood has its beginning in her motherly care for Christ. In Christ, at the foot of the cross, she accepted John, and in John she accepted all of us totally. Mary embraces us all with special solicitude in the Holy Spirit. For as we profess in our Creed, he is ‘the giver of life.’ It is he who gives the fullness of life, open towards eternity” he explained. - Mary, Mother to us all

In closing, I would simply like to add the words that Mary spoke at the Wedding Feast:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. - John 2:1–2:11

Mary’s unique desire is to send us towards Jesus. By the consecration of her perpetual virginity Mary’s motherhood not only encompasses her Son , but also of His Church and all mankind.

What if Mary had moral and lawful intercourse with her husband, St. Joseph?

Even without the perpetual virginity of Mary, our salvation in Christ not lessened! Christ would still be Our Redeemer and Mary would still be the Mother of Jesus, the Church founded by Christ, and all mankind. However, it would be seen through the eyes of the Church in a totally different perspective!

The opposite perspective would not diminish the the sanctity of either the redemptive mission of Christ or of Jesus himself. Nor would it diminish the sanctity of the Mary and her role in her intercession on behalf of the mystical body of Christ which is called the Church.

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    "but properly Son of the Father in both natures" Interesting. How does this fit with Mary being the "spouse" of the Holy Spirit, I would've thought that would mean that Jesus was the Son of the HS in his human nature. I should ask this as a separate question. – curiousdannii Jan 14 at 1:13
  • @ Ken Graham But the question is, without the perpetual virginity of Mary, is our salvation in Christ lessened? Is what He did incomplete or ineffectual apart from Mary's celibacy? – Mike Borden Jan 14 at 11:41
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Mary is the model for the Church and for all Christians:

By her complete adherence to the Father's will, to his Son's redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church's model of faith and charity. Thus she is a "preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church"; indeed, she is the "exemplary realization" (typus)510 of the Church.

CCC 967

St. Jerome, in words that may shock 21st century sensitivos, says:

The wife, like a swallow, flies all over the house. She has to see to everything. Is the sofa smooth? Is the pavement swept? Are the flowers in the cups? Is dinner ready? Tell me, pray, where amid all this is there room for the thought of God? Are these happy homes? Where there is the beating of drums, the noise and clatter of pipe and lute, the clanging of cymbals, can any fear of God be found?

St. Jerome's Smackdown of the Heretic Helvedius

So, in one smallish argument, which could easily be expounded on, Our Lady is the most useful model of the Church, and cause of our salvation

for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race.

St. Irenaus Smackdown of all Heretics, not just Helvedius

So, if your sofa is smooth, thank your mother or your wife. If you've got a good role model to follow to bring your soul into eternal glory, thank your Mother Mary for forgoing bearing other children so that she could attend to Jesus (and St. Joseph while he lived) all the more. She was the first person, as Jesus said, to be like the other Mary and choose the better part.

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  • Regarding Irenaus and Eve: Eve was not the cause of death for the entire human race because "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead." - 1 Cor 15:21. See also Romans chapter 5 and 1 Timothy 2:15. – Mike Borden Jan 14 at 23:30
  • @MikeBorden I think the "cause of" is important. Eve and Mary are the Scotty Pippens of the Bible to Jesus's Michael Jordan. – Peter Turner Jan 15 at 14:18
  • So...Eve caused Adam to sin and Mary caused salvation? Played some role would be more fair. I breathe out CO2 but could never be said to cause global warming. The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world; long before Mary. – Mike Borden Jan 15 at 21:25
  • @mike did you ask this question to argue with the answers? That's pretty uncool. – Peter Turner Jan 15 at 21:43
  • sorry. no. still getting used to the format. I will ask another question rather than push back. thanks. – Mike Borden Jan 15 at 22:46

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