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The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary

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This tract appeared about a.d. 383. The question which gave occasion to it was whether the Mother of our Lord remained a Virgin after His birth. Helvidius maintained that the mention in the Gospels of the “sisters” and “brethren” of our Lord was proof that the Blessed Virgin had subsequent issue, and he supported his opinion by the writings of Tertullian and Victorinus. The outcome of his views was that virginity was ranked below matrimony. Jerome vigorously takes the other side, and tries to prove that the “sisters” and “brethrenspoken of, were either children of Joseph by a former marriage, or first cousins, children of the sister of the Virgin. A detailed account of the controversy will be found in Farrar’s “Early Days of Christianity,” pp. 124 sq. When Jerome wrote this treatise both he and Helvidius were at Rome, and Damasus was Pope. The only contemporary notice preserved of Helvidius is that by Jerome in the following pages.

Jerome maintains against Helvidius three propositions:—

1st. That Joseph was only putatively, not really, the husband of Mary.

2d. That the “brethren” of the Lord were his cousins, not his own brethren.

3d. That virginity is better than the married state.

1. The first of these occupies ch. 38. It turns upon the record in Matt. i. 18-25, and especially on the words, “Before they came together” (c. 4), “knew her not till, &c.” (58).

2. The second (c. 917) turns upon the wordsfirst-born son” (9, 10), which, Jerome argues, are applicable not only to the eldest of several, but also to an only son: and the mention of brothers and sisters, whom Jerome asserts to have been children of Mary the wife of Cleophas or Clopas (1116); he appeals to many Church writers in support of this view (17).

p. 335 3. In support of his preference of virginity to marriage, Jerome argues that not only Mary but Joseph also remained in the virgin state (19); that, though marriage may sometimes be a holy estate, it presents great hindrances to prayer (20), and the teaching of Scripture is that the states of virginity and continency are more accordant with God’s will than that of marriage (21, 22).

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