Mary Ever Virgin: Catholics, Orthodox and Lutherans agree

For more, read here. HT to Tighe.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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64 Responses to Mary Ever Virgin: Catholics, Orthodox and Lutherans agree

  1. Now David, you really ought to know better.
    The perpetual virginity of Mary is not a Lutheran dogma because it cannot be proven from scripture (no matter what Luther thought on the matter).
    Only the Word of God can bind the conscience of man in a matter ‘de fide’.
    Is this what passes for theologising in Romanising circles of the C of E?

  2. Schütz says:

    But Pastor! Don’t the Luther Confessions teach the perpetual virginity? Surely you aren’t denying confessional Lutheran doctrine?

    • No, of course not. There are a number of assumptions (no pun intended!)behind your charge David. If I had more time I would go into them in detail, but for the moment I just offer the following in support of my statement.

      (I’ve typed these up rather quickly, pardon any typos)

      On the Lutheran view of the semper virgo…
      “The problem of Mary’s perpetual virginity is bound together with that of “the virgin inviolate”…the semper virgo is occasionally described in Roman catholic doctrinal assertions. It was a fixed theological viewpoint which Luther…simply accepted. It also found its way into the Lutheran confessions. Thus the semper virgo flowed from the pen of the translator of the Smalcald Articles into Latin when he rendered the words “of the pure, holy Virgin Mary” with “ex Maria pura, sancta, semper virgine” [SA 1.4]. is entirely clear that this theological tradition cannot be dogma of the Lutheran Church because there is no scriptural proof for it. Hollaz makes a correct judgment when he expresses the view that “whether she , however, can be called semper virgo also after the birth cannot be apodictically demonstrated on the basis of scripture” [Hollaz, Examen, 3.1.3]. It cannot be proven that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were not Mary’s children, born after he first-born.”
      Sasse: Liturgie und Bekenntniss (1959).

      “The Lutheran Book of Concord, on the basis of the Sacred Scriptures, affirms the virginity of the Mother of God ante partum and in partu. The official (1584) Latin version of the SA (1.4) expands the “pure, holy Virgin Mary” of the original into “Maria pura, sancta, semper virgo”. But in general, the Lutheran theologians feel themseelves constrained to urge that the biblical evidence, when subjected to a sober exegesis, appears to provide no basis for demanding acceptance of the perpetual virginity as a biblically-based conviction, for a Lutheran this tenet would be a theologoumenon and a pious opinion, a tenet in harmony with the analogy of the faith rather than an article of the Christian faith…”
      Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Mary’s Place Within the People of God, Marian Studies 18 (1967), The Mariological Society of America.

      An article of faith is not a gloss, assertion, or opinion for which there is no clear and definite passage in Holy Scripture. Such, for example, are the questions concerning the time of the world’s creation, whether it took place in spring or in fall; the day and year of Christ’s birth; the perpetual virginity of the blessed Virgin after His birth; the soul sleep, and other matters in which men might exercise their wits.
      Johann Conrad Dannhauer, Hodosophia christiana sine theologia positiva, 11, p. 667; quoted in C. F. W. Walther, The True Visible Church [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961], p. 107.

      On the hermenuetics that we apply to the Lutheran confessions…
      “Where the Symbols do not cite one or more passages of Sacred Scripture in support of a theological conclusion, an individual is not bound to the acceptance of such a conclusion as a doctrine, unless he holds that the conclusion is adequately supported by Holy Writ. “
      Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Suggested Principles for a Hermeneutics of the Lutheran Symbols, Concordia Theological Monthly, Jan.1958 (the whole essay repays careful reading)

      “It should be unnecessary therefore constantly to repeat this obvious fact, unless theologians are deliberately beclouding the issue. We do not pledge ourselves and subscribe to the Latin or German grammar of the confessions, or to the logic or illustrations used there, or to what they might say about historical or scientific matters, or liturgical usages of vestments, or the numbering of the sacraments, or to the mode of baptism (which seemed to be immersion. See SC IV,11. Latin: quid autem significat ista in aquam immersio?), or to non-doctrinal pious” phraseology like the semper virgo” which we find in Selnecker s translation of the Smalcald Articles.”
      Robert Preus, Confessional Subscription (1970).

      For brief mention of the scriptural passages…
      See also David Scaer, Chair of Systematic and Biblical Theology, Concordia Theolgiical Seminary, Fort Wayne, “Semper Virgo: A Doctrine”,

      Finally, couldn’t resist throwing in a church father essentially teaching the later Lutheran view…
      “We must not debate inquisitively about this subject – whether after she had given birth to the Saviour Mary again contracted a marriage or, on the other hand, remained a virgin – because this has no application to the mystery of faith. … The “afterward” (namely, after Christ’s birth) is something with which we do not meddle with respect to the Word of the mystery, because it takes no respect away from the Word; because it does no harm to piety.” Basil the Great, “Sermon on the Nativity of Christ,” quoted in John Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces, “On the Nature of Theology and Scripture,” 18, 8.

      Incidentally, for the record, I haven’t actually stated where I stand on this question; I have only corrected your statement that Lutherans agree dogmatically with Catholics and Orthodox on the perpetual virginity of Mary.


      • Schütz says:

        How utterly fascinating, Pastor Mark. You have obviously gone to some trouble in finding authoritive sources for an hermeneutic of the Lutheran Confessions that fits with your prior determination of what is and what is not “a doctrine contained in the Word of God”. I happen to be convinced – as Luther, the translator of the Latin version of the Smalcald articles and the formulators of the Formula of Concord (and I would submit also St Basil in spite of the quotation you have put up) all were – that the semper virgo doctrine IS scriptural. This is in fact the teaching of the whole Church – east and west – also. But you disagree. This is not the triumph of the Word of God over the inventions of men, but the triumph of personal opinion over ecclesial dogma!

        • David,
          The reference in the Formula of Concord pertains to the virginity of Mary during and immediately after the birth of Christ (Cf Piepkorn), rather than what happened years afterwards. That leaves only an interpolation by a translator in the non-standard text of the Smalcald Articles on which you can base your assertions as to what is Lutheran dogma here. Do you not see the weakness of your position? You have made an error in asserting that Lutherans agree with Catholics and Orthodox that this is a dogma. I have provided evidence to the contrary which you do not refute but simply dismiss and use as a pretext to attack me. Just be honourable and admit your mistake.

          As for the old canard about Lutheranism being the triumph of personal opinion over dogma…oh dear, where to begin?

          • Chris Jones says:

            The reference in the Formula of Concord pertains to the virginity of Mary during and immediately after the birth of Christ.

            There is nothing in the text of FC SD 8.24 that supports this assertion. I’m no German scholar, but the relevant sentence seems pretty clear to me:

            sie wahrhaftig Gottes Mutter und gleichwohl eine Jungfrau geblieben ist.

            The German perfect, like the English perfect, refers not to a state or action at a particular time, but a completed action or a permanent, ongoing state (that is why the tense is called perfect, in the sense of “completed”). “Sie eine Jungfrau geblieben ist” simply means “She has remained a virgin” (i.e. from then until now, permanently). If it truly pertained only to the time immediately after the Saviour’s birth, the simple preterite would have been used: “she remained a virgin (at that time).”

      • Schütz says:

        In fact, I will go a little further on this, if I may be allowed.

        As Chris and Pr Bill have shown in their posts, there are obviously some Lutherans about who DO regard the semper virgo as a Lutheran doctrine. You, Pr Mark, do not. And the basis for your position is in fact one which is entirely novel to me. (Is this a position you learned while at the Seminary? We certainly were taught no such thing – beyond the old quia and quatenus debate anyway – and certainly the teaching we received came down on the quia side). I admit to be astounded by the number of authoritative Lutherans – Piepkorn, Pieper, Preuss, Scaer, Sasse etc. – whom you cite in defence of your position, viz. that not everything in the Lutheran Confessions should be taken as what is definitive for Lutherans, but only that which “is adequately supported by Holy Writ” (to use Piepkorn’s expression).

        That seems to me to pull the entire rug out from under Lutheran identity. For the Confessions no longer serve as the boundary marker and definition of what is Lutheran; rather the supreme dogma has become “sola scriptura”. Thus a Baptist or a Calvinist or a Methodist – or indeed a “Roman Catholic” (since very many passages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church “cite one or more passages of Sacred Scripture in support of a theological conclusion”) – may in fact claim to be “Lutheran”, if he be personally assured that his belief is supported by Scripture.

        And then there is the obvious problem of the Scriptural hermeneutic. Pr Bill’s hermeneutic appears to be quite different from yours, Pr Mark. Which then, is the true Lutheran hermeneutic? I have watched Lutherans struggle on precisely this point in trying to determine whether the ordination of women is or is not allowed by Sacred Scripture.

        More ironic still, is that while you have made “sola scriptura” the highest and most definitive dogma of the Lutheran Church, that dogma is itself a theological conclusion for which it is impossible to “cite one or more passages of Sacred Scripture in support of [it]”.

        • William Tighe says:

          I would add, that the position of Pr. Henderson, and in effect of “Piepkorn, Pieper, Preuss, Scaer, Sasse etc.” seems in effect to amount to the same as the positions of various conservative Reformed bodies here in the States towards their confessions, where an ordinand may make “exceptions” to particular articles or assertions in that confession (e.g., the Westminster Confession) on a “sola scriptura” basis, and a committee of theologians of that denomination then decide whether the ordinand’s “exceptions” are such as to “compromise” his adhesion to that confession. If they decide it does not, he may be ordained; but if they decide it does, he may not be.

          Once again we see Reformedness insinuating itself into Lutheran bodies.

        • William Weedon says:

          Walther’s exchange with Grossmann (Iowa Synod) might also of interest in trying to sort this out. FWIW:

          At the Milwaukee Colloquium between representatives of the Missouri and Iowa Synods, the following exchange took place:

          Grossmann (Iowa): “When you subscribed to the Confessions, were you aware of the fact that they declared the permanent virginity of Mary?”

          Walther (Missouri): “Yes, I can say so in the presence of God.”

          Grossmann: “Do you still believe this to be *true doctrine*?”

          Walther: “Yes, I can say so in the presence of God.”

          Grossmann: “What are your reasons for considering this a true presentation?”

          Walther: “Pardon me, but you have no right to ask this question.”
          (quoted from Beyer, Colloquium of Milwaukee, p. 43 sq., in J. L. Neve, A Brief History of the Lutheran Church in America, 1916 edition, p. 289)

          The reason Walther was declining to answer the last question, I believe, is that he held that to BE Lutheran was to subscribe the Symbols without reservation and thus there was no room for debate BETWEEN Lutherans on any dogmatic assertion within the Symbols. Walther’s position on subscription to the Symbols is famously put forward in his essay on that topic:

          An unconditional subscription is the solemn declaration which the individual who wants to serve the church makes under oath 1) that he accepts the doctrinal content of our symbolical books, because he recognizes the fact that it is in full agreement with Scripture and does not militate against Scripture in any point, whether that point be of major or minor importance; 2) that he therefore heartily believes in this divine truth and is determined to preach this doctrine, whatever the form may be in which it occurs, whether the subject be dealt with ex profess0 or only incidentally. An unconditional subscription refers to the whole content of the symbols and does not allow the subscriber to make any mental reservation in any point. **Nor will he exclude such doctrines as are discussed incidentally in support of other doctrines, because the fact that they are so stamps them as irrevocable articles of faith and demands their joyful acceptance by everyone who subscribes the symbols.**

          As Pr. Henderson has pointed out, that was not quite the position of Walther’s most famous student, Dr. Pieper, though Pieper himself professed the teaching of the PV and scorned those who did not embrace it based on some supposed exegetical tenderness of conscience.

          • William Weedon says:

            P.S. Notice in the Walther quote on confessional subscription the two items in the first point:

            is in full agreement with Scripture
            does not militate against it at any point.

            P.S.S. Piepkorn sought to allow divergence on this question based on the fact that the Symbols allege no Scripture for this assertion; in our day we have seen the same argument made to permit lay celebration of the Sacrament, since AC XIV contains no specific Scriptural reference – our CTCR rather infamously put it: “in the absence of any Scripture to the contrary…”

          • But William, Pieper sat at the feet of Walther and undoubtedly heard Walther’s opinion from his lips on numerous occasions, or he would not have recorded it. What Walther said in an open conference with the Iowa Synod on one occasion (and yes, I am familiar with the quote), doesn’t quite tilt the balance in favour of him regarding the sv as part of the dogma of the LC. Neither, I think, does the practise of the LCMS under him.

        • David,
          Once again, I can only say you are making a lot of assumptons, which I would love to unravel over a glass of red one day.

  3. Chris Jones says:

    Schütz is right, of course: the Confessions do teach the semper virgo (FC SD 8.24). If “only the Word of God can bind the conscience of man,” it is nevertheless true that the Lutheran Confessions can (and do) bind a man’s Lutheran-ness. If a man cannot confess the semper virgo along with the Formula, perhaps he is not too much of a Lutheran.

    The problem, of course, is in the meaning of the word “prove.” Too often we speak of “proving” things from Scripture in isolation from the context in which that “proving” takes place, which at the very least includes not only the Scriptures but someone who is trying to prove something, and someone whom he is trying to persuade by his proof. When Pr Henderson says that the SV cannot be proven from Scripture, that only means that no one has succeeded in proving it to him. It was, however, successfully proven to the Reformers who drafted the Formula.

    It seems that Pr Henderson has a different idea than the Confessors had of what can be, and has been, proven from Scripture.

    • William Weedon says:

      An article from Lutheran Forum I wrote a couple years ago:

      Ever-Virgin? But We’re LUTHERANS!

      Because Lutherans are not immune to the historical amnesia that characterizes so much of our world, it is not surprising that they react with shock when they read in the Lutheran Symbols such words as these:

      “The Son became man in this manner: He was conceived, without cooperation of man, by the Holy Spirit and was born of the pure, holy [Latin: and ever-]Virgin Mary.” SA I 1:4

      “Therefore, she is truly the mother of God and yet has remained a virgin.” FC SD VIII:24

      What was rather a commonplace to earlier generations of Lutherans has become all but a novelty among them in this day and age: the notion that Blessed Mary remained a virgin until her death.

      Now, note the use of the word “until” in the previous sentence. Quite obviously I did not mean that AFTER her death she ceased to be a virgin! The word “until” doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t necessarily say diddly about what comes afterwards. It’s attention is fixed on “up to that point.” So St. Jerome and the Lutheran Reformers argued we must understand the “until” in Matt 1. “He did not know her until she had given birth to a son.” The “until” there – eos – says nothing about what happened next.

      But doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus had brothers and sisters? Indeed it does. But a brother or sister does not mean, necessarily, a son or daughter of Mary. In fact, it is rather striking that they are never called Mary’s children in the Sacred Scriptures and that at the cross our omniscient Lord (who realized that St. James, at least, among his brothers would shortly be a believer and leader of the Church) entrusted the Blessed Mother into the care and keeping of St. John. For century upon century, Christians understood this as a clear indication that Mary had no other offspring to look after her.
      How did the early Lutherans speak of this? Luther was well known for saying we ought not make too much of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother. In this he was not innovating, but following the wisdom of St. Basil the Great. In a Christmas homily, that great father once observed:

      For “he did not know her” – it says – “until she gave birth to a Son, her firstborn.” But this could make one suppose that Mary, after having offered in all her purity her own service in giving birth to the Lord, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, did not subsequently refrain from normal conjugal relations. That would not have affected the teaching of our religion at all, because Mary’s virginity was necessary until the service of the Incarnation, and what happened afterward need not be investigated in order to affect the doctrine of the mystery. But since the lovers of Christ [that is, the faithful] do not allow themselves to hear that the Mother of God ceased at a given moment to be a virgin, we consider their testimony sufficient. Homily [PG 31, 1468]

      Yet Luther similarly had no truck for those who denied her ever-virginity. He wrote, quite scathingly:

      Helvidius, that fool, was also willing to credit Mary with more sons after Christ’s birth because of the words of the Evangelist: ‘And he knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born Son.’ This had to be understood, so he thought, as though she had more sons after the first-born Son. How stupid he was! He received a fitting answer from Jerome. [St. Louis XX:2098, cited in Pieper II:308]

      Thus, though Luther was opposed to making a great issue of the topic, he certainly believed it and not only wrote about it, but preached it. In his homily delivered on the Eve of the Day of Circumcision in 1541, only a few short years before his death, he proclaimed:
      Now, although Mary was not required to do this – the Law of Moses having no claim over her, for she had given birth without pain and her virginity remained unsullied – nevertheless, she kept quiet and submitted herself to the common law of all women, and let herself be accounted unclean. She was, without doubt, a pure, chaste virgin before the birth, in the birth, and after the birth, and could certainly have gone out of the house after giving birth, not only because of her exemption from the Law, but because of the interrupted soundness of her body. For her son did not detract from her virginity, but actually strengthened it…. [House Postils III:256]

      Nor may we suppose this a bit of medieval catholic leftovers that the fervor of the Gospel had not yet cleansed from the great Reformer. A century after the Reformation, Johann Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations announce:

      He is the first and only-begotten of His mother here on earth, who according to His divine nature is the first and only-begotten of His Father in heaven. [Sacred Meditations XIV]

      And in his Christmas homilies, the perpetual virginity remained a recurring theme. For example, using typology he sees the mystery of the perpetual virginity hidden in the account of Gideon’s fleece:

      Thus, in Jud. 6:38,40 God performs a sign before Gideon so that the dew fell on his spread-out fleece, but the entire ground remained dry; the next morning, the fleece remained dry and the ground was wet. Thus the pure virgin Mary alone among all women, through the working of the Holy Spirit, received the Christ-dew, about which Isaiah 45:8 states: Drip down you heavens from above. Later, this dew came upon the entire earth, that is, the fruits of this birth pertain to all mankind; however, Mary once more became a dry pelt, that is, she remained a pure virgin after the birth, just as she was before the birth. [Postilla I:51]

      The examples could be multiplied, but these will suffice to demonstrate that our Lutheran forebears both assumed, meditated upon, and publicly taught the perpetual virginity of Blessed Mary. While rightly noting that no doctrine hinges upon confessing this, they nevertheless clung to it. Why?

      It was how they were taught to read the Sacred Scriptures. They firmly believed that the entirety of the Sacred Scriptures were a testimony to the Savior, and their read was typological. Thus, they found figures of Mary’s perpetual virginity in the Old Testament. Not just Gideon’s fleece, but Ezekiel’s vision of the closed door through which none may pass but the Lord (Ez. 44:2) and Aaron’s rod that budded and numerous others. Their focus was not so much upon Mary in all of this, as upon her Son, and the popular belief that being born of a virgin without violating her virginity demonstrated clearly that her Son was not only man, but truly the Logos enfleshed.

      How do we read the Scriptures? Do we read them the same way our Lutheran forebears did? If so, we’d not be quite so shocked to discover that the Lutherans could joyfully hold to a quite old and established tradition which, while not explicit in the Sacred Scriptures, they held to be consonant with them and certainly not contradictory to them. I would humbly suggest that what matters about the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother is not so much the doctrinal freight of the teaching itself as the light it casts upon how we receive tradition in the Lutheran Church.

      Luther once addressed the topic – not in the context of perpetual virginity, but of the baptism of infants. His words are instructive:

      I did not invent it [infant baptism]. It came to me by tradition and I was persuaded by no word of Scripture that it was wrong. [AE 40:254]
      Such words could equally well apply to the attitude of the great teachers in our Churches during the 16th and 17th centuries regarding, among other things, the perpetual virginity. At work here is what Krauth once observed about the difference between a Lutheran and a Reformed approach to Scripture:

      In the former [the Reformed tradition], Scripture is regarded more exclusively as sole source; in the latter [the Lutheran], more as a norm of a doctrine which is evolved from the analogy of faith, and to which, consequently, the pure exegetical and confessional tradition of the Church possesses more value. [Conservative Reformation, p. 123]

      Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, then, was what they received from the Church in ages before them and which no Scripture convinced them was in error. For myself, I believe we were richer in those days before a hermeneutic of suspicion about tradition [show me where the Bible says THAT] became so prevalent in our Churches.

    • And who are you, Mr Jones, who casts aspersions upon my confessional subscription in a public forum in such a manner?

      • Chris Jones says:

        And who are you, Mr Jones …

        I am a lay member of a Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod congregation with no more authority in such matters than having read the Formula of Concord, and enough of a reading knowledge of German and Latin to understand what the Formula says on this particular point.

        … who casts aspersions upon my confessional subscription in a public forum …?

        I do not know in what Church body you serve, nor what sort of confessional subscription that body requires — in particular, whether a quia or quatenus subscription is required. Not knowing what sort of subscription you have made, I cannot and do not “cast aspersions” on it.

        That said, the SV is a point of doctrine which highlights the distinction between quia and quatenus. The Formula of Concord unambiguously teaches the Semper Virgo. If you subscribe to the Confessions because they teach what Scripture teaches, you can only conclude that Scripture teaches the SV, because the Formula teaches it. If you subscribe to the Confessions insofar as they teach what Scripture teaches, then you may dissent from the Formula’s teaching of the SV if you do not agree that Scripture teaches it. What you cannot do (in my opinion) is to claim that the SV “is not Lutheran dogma.” That the SV is Lutheran dogma is simply a fact: the Lutheran Confessions, and only the Lutheran Confessions, are the distinctively Lutheran dogmatic definition; those Confessions teach the Semper Virgo, therefore it is Lutheran dogma.

        • Precisely, Mr Jones, you do not know me, and therefore are out of order – not to mention just plain wrong – when you state that perhaps I am “not much of a Lutheran” because I do not confess the semper virgo. That is a very uncharitable judgment for you to make.

          As a member of the LCMS, you might beenfit from reading the writings of two esteemed Missourian theologians who were agreed on this matter even if they were often at loggerheads on others, the Piepkorn and Preus articles I reference above in my response to David.
          You might also look up what your synodical dogmatician, Franz Pieper, has to say on the subject in volume II of his dogmatics, p.208-09, where he states that no-one who denies the semper virgo on exegetical grounds should be hereticised. You might wish, in future, to bear his words in mind before casting aspersions on fellow Lutherans in public forums.

          Btw, Pieper also records this about Walther, the founding father of your synod: ” Walther acknowledged the existence of “open questions”… He wishes to have the term “open question” used as synonymous with “theological problems.” Hence open questions are to him such as God’s Word leaves open questions which indeed arise in connection with the discussion of the Christian articles of faith, “but which find no solution in God’s Word.” (L.u.W., 14,33.) Walther insists most strenuously that open questions in this sense be acknowledged, and this for the very purpose that the Scripture principle may remain inviolate. For if one should wish to “close” a question which God’s Word leaves open, then one would be adding to the Scripture. He writes: “What is not contained and decided in God’s Word must also not be equated with God’s Word and thus added to God’s Word. But this would take place if orthodoxy should be made dependent upon any doctrine not contained in God’s Word and the denial of it should be given church-divisive significance. Open questions in this sense are therefore all doctrines which are neither positively nor negatively decided by God’s Word, or such by the affirmation of which nothing which Holy Scripture denies is affirmed, and by the denial of which nothing which Holy Scripture affirms is denied” (L.u.W., 14,33). Among such open questions Walther, with the older theologians, reckons also the following: Whether Mary gave birth to other children after Christ (the semper virgo); whether the soul is imparted to every man through propagation from his parents, as flame from flame (per traducem, traducianism), or through creative infusion (creationism); whether the visible world will pass away on the last day according to its substance or only according to its attributes, etc. (L.u.W.,14,34). On the other hand Walther insists most strenuously that nothing shall be declared an open question and treated as such which is clearly taught in God’s Word and thus decided by God’s Word.”
          Franz Pieper, Lehre und Wehre, July-August 1888, pp. 198-204.
          Surely, you will not claim that Walther also held a quatenus subscription?

          • Matthias says:

            Mr Jones I suggest Sir that you read up on some of the correspondents who write here. “I do not know in what Church body you serve, nor what sort of confessional subscription that body requires —” . Pastor Henderson is a Pastor of the Lutheran Church of Australia,onE started by the same refugees from germany who started the LCMS. You have been most uncharitable in your comments and i suggest in a well known Australian phrase “pull your head in” . and have some manners

          • Chris Jones says:

            I meant no offense, Pr Henderson, and my remarks were not directed at you personally. I sought to make a logical point in the rhetorical form of a hypothetical (If … [then] perhaps …). It may be that I ought to have said “Since good Lutherans like Pr Henderson no longer need confess the Semper Virgo, it would appear that the Formula of Concord no longer defines, in detail, what it means to be Lutheran.” That would say the same thing, without any implication as to your integrity.

            I am sorry to have given offense.

            • Schütz says:

              Now, now, boys. Be nice!

              Chris, you probably overstepped the mark a little by a personal attack on Pr Mark; Mark and Matthias, you are both a little too ready to say “them’s fighting words” and to throw down the gauntlet.

              Nevertheless, as Chris has pointed out, there is, I believe, a certain logic to his position which I find rather lacking in your position, Mark.

            • Father John Fleming says:

              I think Pastor Henderson has been a little too sensitive here. The cut and thrust of intelligent debate leads to some thrusts which might wound a little, but I certainly did not discern any ad hominem attack in what Chris said.

            • I certainly accept your apology, Chris. Others might think I was too sensitive, and perhaps I was, but I have taken my lumps for adherence to the confessions.

  4. Matthias says:

    I do not know but I tought there was a passage of one of the Gospels that says that “Joseph knew not his wife until after she had brought forth her first born son”.
    it could be argued that given what Fr hungwicke has referred to is a reinforcement of the cult of mary,which in itself is Unscriptural for it deflects Glory and Praise to mary when Christ should receive it all.

  5. Matthias says:

    Sorry Schutz i apologise and I hope you and Chris accepts it but still does not change that perhaps a search on Google would have found pastor mark ‘s blog and bio.
    Oh by the way started on ymway to attend the Russian catholics this am,but got lost looking for it .

  6. Father John Fleming says:

    A fascinating exchange! I remember some years ago when I was on Adelaide radio that I pointed out to a listener that the “semper virginem” was part of the Lutheran Confessions. This set off a number of phone calls from various pastors to my good friend the later Lutheran Pastor Dr Daniel Ch Overduin. Dr Overduin opined that I was right to say what I said. And I have ever held that Lutherans are confessionally committed to the perpetual virginity of our Lady. Revisionists (pace Pastor Henderson) have denied the truth of the doctrine and unerringly appeal to the opinions of Lutheran theologians. Well … I remember being at a Church service in the Lutheran Church in Albert Park, Adelaide, SA. It was a service in thanksgiving for Dr Overduin successfully completing his doctorate. In his sermon on that occasion the later Dr Herman Sasse admonished Dr Overduin not to get too carried away with his doctorate, pointing out that most of the heretics of the church were leading theologians! All of which directs my attention back to the question as to who arbitrates, in the end, what is true doctrine. Theologians? Certainly not! They have often been on the completely wrong end of the argument. Scripture alone? – but who decides what Scripture means? Me? Hardly! The Catholic Church – certainly, as Scripture bears witness and the history of the Church most amply exemplifies.

    • Matthias says:

      Father Fleming I was wondering whether you were the curate down in Brighton in Adelaide .

      • Father John Fleming says:

        Indeed I was, 1969-1970. So long ago! Memory of the details has dimmed, but I was there.

        • Matthias says:

          well a elderly friend of ours who use to visit Adelaide,when there use to attend that church with her friends who were an English doctor and his wife. You came up in conversation because she was great friends with a Fr Brian Brophy-a Melbourne Catholic priest-when he was chaplain out at the repat hospital,and then we got onto Anglicans becomming catholics,and she mentioned the photo of you in the paper when you were walking from Canterbury to Rome-so to speak,and I said “ah yes we talk through a blog sometimes”.

    • Dr Fleming, I really must protest at being labelled a revisionist Lutheran.
      As I intimated previously, and as everyone here seems to have ignored, the question at issue is not my personal belief, but whether the semper virgo can be called a dogma of the Lutheran Church. I have set forth numerous statements from confessional Lutheran theologians to the effect that it is not. I could set forth many more if I had the time and inclination to do so, but I think everyone here has already made their mind up, so that would be a waste of my efforts. For the record, I believe the semper virgo; I simply do not believe, and would not hereticise, a fellow Lutheran who denied it. The one appearance of the phrase in the confessions is easily explained as being an interpolation of the translator, who was known for his Marian piety (in any case, the German text is the authoritative one) . That’s a very weak foundation on which to build a dogma. This has always been the position of the Lutheran Church, going back to the 17th century. If you were more familiar with that history, you would not be so quick to label me a revisionist. Dr Overduin, of blessed memory, had his opinion, but was wrong. I wonder if he and Dr Sasse ever discussed it?

  7. Stephen K says:

    Hold it everybody!
    Now that I’ve arrested your attention: doesn’t it strike you that this discussion has something of the character of a debate on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Granted, the doctrines about Mary relate to a real person, not theologically imagined life-forms and time-wasting gymnastics, but isn’t a discussion along the current lines a little futile? I mean, the argument is being waged, ultimately, on how much Marian theology can be strained out of the meagre references in the Scriptures and how much reliance can be placed on the supposed/claimed tradition about her which led to said meagre references and which developed in the centuries after the Gospels. Consequently, at one level, the conclusions people express are coming down to their reliance on the written Scriptures or the authority of the Church over time in an act of their personal faith. The exegesis being displayed here (e.g. the ‘almah’ vs ‘parthenos’; the competing nuances of “adelphoi” etc.) is well-worn. There are contrary arguments. [ Has anyone read Marina Warner’s “Alone of All her Sex”? (1976) or Peter Creswell’s “Uncensored Messiah”, to mention just a couple?] Surely, the idea that virginal conceptions and virginal births and perpetual virginity were considered “right and fitting” for an incarnate deity, on the one hand, or the apparent non-promotion – outside the Matthaean and Lucan versions (if they can even be thought so vigorous as to be promotion) – of Jesus’ miraculous origins in the earliest years on the other, must give believers pause for question and thought! The immediate reflex I have is that, of course, miracles and the mechanics of Jesus’ divinity were not the focus or the point for those who first embraced his kingdom and his transforming message. Even less the point must his mother’s circumstances have been. I ask, why on earth would it be necessary to insist that Mary was always a virgin, or that she conceived virginally? Isn’t to do so to dangerously reinforce the ‘separate superbeing-in-the-sky” encapsulation of an ineffable Godhead, and reduce a mystery of faith to a mechanics about which no-one can possibly know?

    I know the usual explanation for the increasingly detailed articulation of Marian and Christic dogma: to counter heresy and wrong ideas. But it is clear from this discussion exchange that it is not at all agreed that some or all of the later articulations are integral to a Christian faith. Moreover, it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to convince anyone else soon! Isn’t it true that a lot of the passion that is expended on a defence or protest of such things as Mary’s virginity has to do with, not the merits of its justifications, but one’s attachment to a childhood, lifelong or adult way of thinking, feeling and acting model of religion? We spend our whole lives assimilating, adapting or replacing earlier formations and experiences but we are generally (though not always) conservative about it. Why can’t we admit that, and instead of waging war over a circumstance that has clear cultural, historical and elusive layers, simply explain how a devotion to Mary as an Ever-Virgin helps one’s faith in Jesus, or not, as the case may be. Otherwise, the perpetual virginity issue resembles a Rubicon that divides disciples from outcasts, which I suggest would give it a significance in and for belief out of all proportion to the essential kerygma and which it cannot possibly bear.

    • William Tighe says:

      No, it is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church; anathema to those who deny it!

      • Including Basil the Great?

        • William Tighe says:

          One doesn’t anathematize the dead (except in 554).

        • Schütz says:

          Pr Mark, I had never heard of this passage in St Basil to which you allude until your allusion. However, Pr Bill has cited a fuller section of the same passage in his essay above, and the passage concludes:

          “since the lovers of Christ [that is, the faithful] do not allow themselves to hear that the Mother of God ceased at a given moment to be a virgin, we consider their testimony sufficient.” Homily [PG 31, 1468]

          He seems to have accepted that this was a reliable tradition, even if it had no specific bearing (in his opinion) on Christological dogma.

    • Well said, Stephen.
      For the reasons you cite, I’m reluctant to continue the discussion.

    • jules says:

      Stephen, I agree with what you have said. It is incredible that for centuries Christian tradition has always affirmed that Our Lady remained a virgin throughout her life . We know that by the fourth century, at the latest, a popular title for our Lord’s Mother was “ever virgin”, I believe this qualifies as a Universal Truth, held by all Christians, in all places, in all ages, in all times [ until the 16th Century ].

    • Schütz says:

      Hi, Steve. Can I just suggest that you may have the origins of this doctrine a little muddled? The “Ever Virgin” doctrine is in fact as old as the “Virgin birth” doctrine, and not a “later development”. It was taught by the Church because this was the historical memory of the Church; there is no evidence that people once thought Mary had other children, but that the Church later “developed” the idea that she remained a virgin because it suited some sort of sexual ideology of purity. The tradition of the “brothers of Jesus” is very strong, both within and outside the NT, but there seems never to have been a suggestion that these brothers were children of Mary. In other words, as you, Pr Henderson and Basil the Great all said, it wouldn’t affect any other dogma of the Church to any great degree if Mary had NOT been a perpetual virgin; BUT this does not mean that we can simply treat it as an optional doctrine, IF there is reliable evidence that Mary in fact DID NOT HAVE any other children. In other words, it is not a doctrine which has been invented (or even deduced) by the Church to serve a theological purpose; rather it was a reliable and universally held tradition about the real facts of the matter upon which the Church has reflected theologically.

      I would also take the authors you cite with a grain of salt. There are a lot of “historians” (actually, Marina Warner is called a “mythographer” on her Wikipedia page) whose work is of the nature which Wright characterises as prior assumptions posing as scholarly conclusions. Read something a bit more reliable.

      • Stephen K says:

        Hi, David. I accept that you think I have muddled the origins of the doctrine. I would like you to accept that I haven’t “muddled” them, but have, after reflection, rejected (with surgical concentration) your summary of them. My attributing a different value to the doctrine than that which you would give it (and which you say the Church gives it) is the consequence of a scepticism about its veracity, not the result of too many glasses of port!
        My point was, in fact, that, though there may have been a race to run where a discussion of whether the doctrine was a dogma of the Lutheran church (which I would never pretend to comment on), there was none where a discussion of whether the doctrine was reasonable or supported by Scripture was concerned. This for two reasons: (1) the positions for and against the “semper virgo” being necessary ultimately come down to whether one accepts the all-seeing wisdom of the Roman Church or the all-encompassing text-limitations of the written New Testament, and this is – or has so far proved to be – an unresolvable impasse; (2) none of the arguments – not even yours (that there is no “reliable” evidence she did not have other children, hence she mustn’t have) – show that the doctrine adds anything of core value to the Christian kerygma.
        Quite apart from my dismay – from the heading – that yet again the justification of faith appeared to be founded on a proclamation by numbers (“see, the Orthodox and Lutherans and Catholics all agree, we must be right”), I sensed a great futility in the discussion because it’s my experience that no-one who sees their faith as founded or guaranteed by some authority seems ever capable or willing to really test the force of their proposition – unless the authority says so, and thus we end up with competing endless circles!
        No, David, I don’t consider myself muddled. And I would like to raise one more issue: just because Marina Warner describes herself as a mythographer doesn’t make her work automatically wrong or flawed: this is why I asked had anyone read her work? It’s a snobbery to think only tenured biblical scholars can write accurately on scripture. [Once upon a time, the best writers, historians and philosophers etc were all amateurs, not “jobbers”.] As a matter of fact, one of the best resources I have ever encountered – on Roman Catholic belief as well as Christianity generally is “The Protestant Dictonary”, ed. Rev. Charles Wright and Rev. Charles Neil (1904). This is not a lightweight work. I’ve read more than Marina Warner. But please see how patronising it can sound to urge someone to read “something more reliable”. Reliable? By whose standard?

        • Schütz says:

          Have you heard the expression “hermeneutic of suspicion”, Steve? It is a fairly dominant hermeneutic in all kinds of fields today. Basically it is a hermeutic that operates with an anathema on putting one’s trust in any kind of “authority”. Ironically (like the ecclesial communities whose official creed is “We believe that the Church should not have any Creeds”), the “hermeneutic of suspicion” usually operates with a whole bag full of ideological assumptions and authorities which they never question.

          It seems to me that the tradition of the Christian Church on this matter is as reliable a guide as any in this matter. It is one of those curious ideas that the Church seems to have had since the beginning. It is not possible to date its origin in terms of “when it was first suggested”, rather it is datable by “when it was first denied”. That seems to me significant. A little like the practice of infant baptism, in that we have no records of when it was first done, but plenty of those who first denied that it should be done.

          Given that there is no conflict between the Church’s tradition on this matter and the scriptural witness – unless one wishes to insist that the term “brothers” has to mean children of Mary (which is itself scripturally unwarranted) – then the probability, it seems to me, is that the Church has it right. As Tom Wright says: All things are possible, but are all things probable?

          My point about Marina Warner is precisely that she is not an historian. She deals in myths and stories and narratives. In dealing with Mary, she has already placed her in the category of “myth”, just like most of those who walk down the Bultmannstrasse did with Jesus. Thus the conclusions (surprise, surprise) fit the assumptions from the very beginning.

  8. Sasse, Piepkorn, Preus, Walther, Pieper and Henderson, all revisionist Lutherans under Reformed influence? At least I’m in good company!

  9. Schütz says:

    Dear Pr Mark,

    I take your point. I was labouring under the misapprehension that the perpetual virginity of the Theotokos WAS a Lutheran dogma BECAUSE it was attested to in the Lutheran Confessions.

    The conversation with Chris and Pr Bill has shown that there is some disagreement on this matter. They too appear, like me (and like Walther in Pr Bill’s citation), to take anything and everything to be taught or even incidentally contained in the Lutheran Confessions to be authoritative Lutheran dogma. You, for the clear reasons stated, do not.

    Now this interests me very much. So I would like to ask a few clarifying questions (in no particular order):

    1) How do you determine whether or not a teaching is “Lutheran”? What function do the Lutheran Confessions have in defining this?

    2) How do you determine which theologians (and which opinions of these theologians) are authoritative in reaching your conclusions?

    3) I had believed that the Lutheran position on traditional dogma of the Church was to accept the pre-Reformation Catholic dogmas unless these had actually been disproven by Scripture or by the Lutheran confessions (eg. as with infant baptism). Is this wrong?

    4) Why do you still hold the perpetual virginity of Mary as a personal belief (“a private opinion”?), while dismissing it as a Lutheran dogma?

    5) I believe that the teaching of the perpetual virginity of Mary is a universal and extremely ancient teaching of the catholic and orthodox faith, which is supported by a close reading of the Scriptures themselves. Is there not some danger in putting forth novel interpretations of the Scriptures that are contrary to the universal teaching of the Church, even if (on a sola scriptura basis alone) a case can be made for such novel teaching? Again, an example would be the ordination of women. The ordination of women is not explicitly condemned in Scripture, nevertheless the universal and ancient condemnation of women’s ordination accords with a close reading of the Scriptures themselves. Is it not true that we must be guided by the Church’s Holy Tradition in attaining a right interpretation of the Scriptures when a reading of the Scriptures in isolation from this Tradition may admit of various conclusions?

  10. William Weedon says:

    It might be instructive to review this paper:

    Noting especially the section entitled: “Inversion of the Catholic Principle” and Addendum II which I assembled.

  11. L P Cruz says:

    In difference to Pr. Will who said of Walther’s answer to Grossman The reason Walther was declining to answer the last question, I believe, is that he held that to BE Lutheran was to subscribe the Symbols without reservation and thus there was no room for debate BETWEEN Lutherans on any dogmatic assertion within the Symbols

    Walther was simply wrong. The question of Grossman was a fair question which needed an answer, so it was just a cop out. In a debate situation, this is abysmal performance which decent men should not accept but rather rebuke!

    Walther’s dogma that there should be no room for debate BETWEEN Lutherans on any dogmatic assertion is begging the question, a fallacy. Walther assumed it to be so and based on his assumption treats others based on his own dogma, and as it were, taking the high ground to grand stand. This is circular reasoning.

    This is the reason why Walther will be given a pink slip if this was a formal debate.

    It seems to me that this is an entirely different understanding of the Confessions, an understanding which elevates the Confession as the “God breathed” co-equal with Scripture, i.e. the very words literally equal with Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit himself! If one treats the Confession this way then he is an Enthusiast who believes the Holy Spirit still works outside the means of grace.

    Further, I would also consider this rather a cultic take on the Confessions requiring men to do deep exegesis on it which is only reserved for the Holy Writ.


    • Schütz says:

      Hi, LP! Welcome to the Commentary table. I know you of course from your blog, but also through our mutual aquaintance, Mr Tan. I do hope we have the pleasure of meeting face to face some day.

      If one treats the Confession this way then he is an Enthusiast who believes the Holy Spirit still works outside the means of grace. Further, I would also consider this rather a cultic take on the Confessions requiring men to do deep exegesis on it which is only reserved for the Holy Writ.

      In fact I think you have it the wrong way around. A friend commented yesterday (after reading this discussion) that he thought it was “enthusiasm” for a Lutheran to bring “private opinion” to bear against their own ecclesial confessional documents. Also, there is nothing particularly sacrosanct about the methodology of exegesis – we use it every day for all kinds of literary texts, even if we don’t give it the exalted title “exegesis”. an be used for any literary

  12. L P Cruz says:


    Enthusiasm in Lutheran talk has something to do as to how treats the means of grace. i.e., that God can disregard Word & Sacraments, that is if anyone believes God can speak to us outside these means, he is an Enthusiast (see Luther on this). Those who effectively assert and imply (and I dare say as your readers do) as if the Confession was at par with Scripture and are treating it that way are functioning Enthusiast. They have another holy book, tacked on to Scripture, ala talmud.

    As to exegesis, this should not be minded, but it all depends on how far we go. The only one worthy of deep exegesis is the Word of God because the very WORDS are God breathed! This is what Jesus said.

    Here is where I stand. I subscribe to both the very Word of Scripture AND TO the meaning of those Words.

    As to the Lutheran Confessions, I only subscribe to the “meaning” of those words NOT to the very words themselves. The reason is that , it is Scripture that is God breathed, it is the Ruling Norm. The Confession is the Ruled Norm. It is Ruled by Scripture. Hence, one should know that the Confession takes secondary authority from Scripture and not co-equal with it. Hence, no deep exegesis necessary.

    Even if one does exegesis to FCSD 8.24 , Pr. Mark has the point on this, i.e. that it is an open question. What gives this thought? It is the last sentence of that paragraph that allows room for such an open interpretation. It is not explicit as one might think. Your fellow semper-virgo (Lutheran) believers think it does, but it does not. All of this labeling such as Reformed influence is just name calling.

    The real Reformed does not effectively believe in the Means of Grace. The real Reformed allows for the possibility that God immediately speaks to us outside the Word, for after all so they say, God is Sovereign, he can do things as he wish and set aside the Word and Sacrament. It is similar to Romanism, for in Romanism, the Pope is effectively your Means of Grace. I do not mean btw to be disrespectful in saying that.

    Hence, I add because of that last (open) sentence of FCSD 8.24, Hollaz was well within reason to say what he said – something that Pr. Mark gave as proof.


    • Schütz says:

      reason is that , it is Scripture that is God breathed, it is the Ruling Norm. The Confession is the Ruled Norm. It is Ruled by Scripture.

      Yes, I know this common Lutheran distinction between the norma normans and the norma normanda (“Norm” and “Herman Eutics” were characters we all had fun with back in Sem!). But it is down this precise slippery slope that many Lutherans ride today. Your conclusion “it is ruled by Scripture” doesn’t go quite far enough: the final conclusion is “It is ruled by my interpretation of Scripture”.

      • William Tighe says:

        And that is why I reject Sola Scriptura root and branch.

        • Fr John Fleming says:

          I agree very much with Dr Tighe. Apart from the obvious fact that there is no biblical evidence to support sola scriptura (indeed to the contrary), what we end up with is interminable debates about what the scriptures actually mean. Moroney I have no idea what it means to say you believe in the words of scripture and not just what the words signify. All words are symbols, and scripture itself can be understood at a number of levels. The same is true for other literature. The issue is whether or not what the symbols signify is true. Even then we struggle with the words of scripture. Taking the Smalcald articles as they are in Latin, Lutherans are bound to the semper virgo because they have bound themselves to their Book of Concord as their standard of belief. All truth to be found surely in the Book of Concord is what Luther et al appropriated from the magisterium of the Catholic Church. And as has been amply demonstrated in this exchange, semper Virgo was always and everywhere accepted as a true and Catholic doctrine, to which dogmatic truth of the Catholic Church the Book of Concord bears witness.

  13. L P Cruz says:


    Your conclusion “it is ruled by Scripture” doesn’t go quite far enough: the final conclusion is “It is ruled by my interpretation of Scripture”

    Of course I don’t. That statement of your is the so called slippery slope fallacy which I do not commit.

    John Flemming,
    Moroney I have no idea what it means to say you believe in the words of scripture and not just what the words signify.
    I am afraid you misquoted me. At any rate, what in the world is “moroney”? It is something the eludes Google. Google does not have it and that says a lot.

    Anyway, think a bit more of what I said, I am sure you will eventually get what I meant.


    • Schütz says:

      I was wondering what Fr F meant by “Maroney” too – I thought he must have gotten your name mixed up with someone else…

      But Lito, if the final conclusion is not “It is ruled by my interpretation of scripture”, whose interpretation of scripture DO you take as authoritative? Because it just won’t do to say “Scripture is authoritative”, since the Scriptures do not interpret themselves.

      Please note: That isn’t to say that any given exegete might not employ the principle “Scripture interprets Scripture”. But it is people who use this principle to do this interpreting – the Book itself doesn’t do it.

      • L P Cruz says:


        Scripture is plain, remember?

        But to counter, don’t you have to interpret the pontifications of the Magisterium? Further, since you say that we do interpretations anyway as a daily human activity, how sure are you that the interpretation you have of reality is actually real and not just illusory? Now apply that to the interpretation of the Magisterium.

        I pose to you that you will be going down the fallacy of — special pleading.


        • Schütz says:

          Scripture is plain, remember?

          Then why are there so many arguments about what Scripture actually means, Lito?

          As for interpreting the Magisterium, yes, that is true. There remain many arguments within the Catholic Church on what the defintions of the Magisterium actually mean. Like I said, we need to “exegise” any document we read. However, Scripture as such does not “define” doctrines. That isn’t generally the mode in which it speaks. When the Magisterium defines doctrine, it seeks to do it in a way that is clear and unambiguous. The arguments do not stop there, of course, which is why the Magisterium needs to be a living and ongoing process.

          • L P Cruz says:

            I just clued you hoping you might not commit the fallacy of special pleading but your reply demonstrates what I said – you just did special pleading for the interpretation of the Magisterium.

            Obviously our presuppositions are not the same but the principle is the same, you just transferred the field of exegesis somewhere, in this case you moved it from Scripture to Magisterium. You just presuppose that the Magisterium is a lot clearer than Scripture which is not my presupposition.



  14. Christine says:

    [ Has anyone read Marina Warner’s “Alone of All her Sex”? (1976)

    Groan. I did. I’m afraid I wouldn’t use the “reliable” description of the book either.

    So — where were these other biological children of Mary when she stood faithfully at the foot of the cross? It was to St. John that Christ gave the care of His Mother.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I just find it odd that people think the Semper Virgo doctrine is not “scriptural”. Sure, it doesn’t say explicity anywhere “Mary never had any other children” but the weight of evidence seems to be on our side.

      • Stephen K says:

        I won’t flog a dead horse, David, but I couldn’t let you think I’d fled the field dejected: I’m just espying the terrain to see how to make the best of the situation, in good will. Let me fire my last pre-Armistice shot by simply saying, if the doctrine has come down to a “balance of probabilities” decision, then it ought not be a dogma. That it appears to have morphed by common re-iteration into dogmatic status I think is a category mistake. If you counter by saying that we are obliged to assent to a dogma and there’s no debate, then I guess were one to believe it as a preferred or probable circumstance is not good enough, which seems to reinforce that Catholic orthodoxy requires not so much the object of assent but the form of said assent. This not only elevates the wrapping over the present, there’s no place for different reason in such a scheme, and the inevitable result is that if someone does genuinely arrive at a different conclusion, it’s discounted or dismissed as wilful or obstinate or other such things: the magisterium is infallible so it cannot err, so every other position is doomed. The situation is, it seems to me, Kafkaesque!
        All that aside, happy belated wishes on this Epiphany.

    • Stephen K says:

      Oh well, Christine, you didn’t like her book, for your reasons, I liked it or found it interesting for mine.

      It’s an interesting point you raise – we might indeed wonder why Jesus would not assume his mother would remain in the care of siblings. It is of course possible that Jesus, who said his true brothers and sisters were those who listened to the word of God, might have esteemed John more. I don’t say that this conjecture is true. It would indeed be more likely not to have done so if he did have siblings. David talks about the weight of evidence. I have what I think is a reasonable doubt, so I can’t and won’t convict. I’ve no problem if someone else wants to think the opposite though because, in Humphrey Bogart’s words, “it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans” (at least compared to many other questions). Happy Epiphany to you.

  15. Christine says:

    Stephen, you are under no obligation to reply, of course and I will fully respect your decision to decline, but may I ask your affiliation? I am having a hard time figuring out if you are Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican or from another tradition. I only ask because our individual backgrounds do come into play on these blogs as to how we view things.

    Thanks and I hope the Epiphany was a blessing to you as well.

    • Stephen K says:

      Christine, I’ve spent a little time thinking about whether and how I should answer your question. On the one hand I’d be sad to think that my affiliation (if I can be said to have one) might box my contributions into a category by which they might be dismissed before consideration, but on the other hand, David and others are quite clear about their affiliations and it seems churlish and a little unfair for me to demand a different position. Fairness – and a degree of trust – must win out here so I have proceeded to consider how I should answer this, without being too autobiographically revelatory and without being prolix.

      My formation is Catholic, from the cradle. I attended Catholic schools and a traditional seminary, and spent a brief postulancy at a Benedictine monastery. My degree is in Philosophy. I have been involved in liturgical music for a long time and retain a traditional liturgical sensibility. However I recognise that my formation, like anyone’s, was culture-specific and effectively quarantined me from many other religious and philosophical perspectives. Some years ago I began to explore – or at least be open to – some of these. I consequently might be described (by, I imagine, an orthodox Catholic) as a heretic, or (by, I imagine, a mainstream Christian) an apostate, but I probably would characterise myself better as being agnostic on details within a residual Christian spirituality. A significant influence on any thought of mine that can still be called Catholic was Fr John Powell SJ. I attend both Catholic and Anglican services which I attribute to an abiding sense of, and need for contact with, God and with other people seeking existential perfection. I’m intrigued by the journeys and insights of people like Dom Bede Griffiths and Raimon Panikkar, and am drawn to the apophatic traditions of Eastern Theology, and think there must have been more to Luther – and other reformers – than the quarantining Catholic (“aka” Roman) viewpoint allows. I am attracted to the figure and insights of the Buddha. But I appreciate I do not know enough of anything to speak of authoritatively, for study and life have to be balanced. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I am, because of my limitations, my sinfulness and other things, not in a position to criticise other people’s decisions or lives, I consider I can contribute intelligent or coherent ideas to the great quest in which thinking people everywhere (and on SCE) appear to be participating.

      I have omitted many other influences, models of inspiration, conclusions, but space and appropriateness do not permit. For me faith and the spiritual life is a work in progress and cannot be demanded and are larger than any single expression of it. I hope however that this response answers your question satisfactorily. Peace be to you, sincerely.

  16. Christine says:

    Oh, forgot to address your point about “It is of course possible that Jesus, who said his true brothers and sisters were those who listened to the word of God, might have esteemed John more.” A very valid one, but I guess I’m thinking here that alongside the lack of evidence in the greater Tradition that Mary had other children if she did the strong Jewish obligation for a child to care for their parents, especially a widowed mother, would have taken precedence whether those other children had believed in Jesus as the Messiah or not. It’s quite unfathomable to me that they would not have been present for her at such a sorrowful time. Nor do we have any records whatsoever of descendants of any theoretical brothers and sisters of Jesus, some of which would surely have married and had families of their own.

  17. Christine says:

    on the other hand, David and others are quite clear about their affiliations and it seems churlish and a little unfair for me to demand a different position. Fairness – and a degree of trust – must win out here so I have proceeded to consider how I should answer this, without being too autobiographically revelatory and without being prolix.

    Hi Stephen, thanks for your candor. What you have stated is the reason I posed the question, not to prejudge your positions simply because of your affiliation, but it just makes it easier to get a sense of where all of us here are coming from. Believe me, coming from a family with one Catholic and one Lutheran parent I know how complex it can become! That faith and the spiritual life are a work in progress for us all is beyond a doubt. I appreciate your giving us a bit of a deeper glimpse of what is important to you.

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