“We believe that God was born of a virgin, because we read it. We do not believe that Mary was married after she brought forth her Son, because we do not read it. . . . You [Helvidius] say that Mary did not remain a virgin. As for myself, I claim that Joseph himself was a virgin, through Mary, so that a virgin Son might be born of a virginal wedlock.” -Saint Jerome, Father and Doctor of the Church; Against Helvidius: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, #21; 383 A.D.
“It was not the visible sun, but its invisible Creator who consecrated this day for us, when the Virgin Mother, fertile of womb and integral in her virginity, brought him forth, made visible for us, by whom, when he was invisible, she too was created. A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?” – Saint Augustine of Hippo, Father and Doctor of the Chuch; Sermons 186:1; 411 A.D.
The Dogma concerning Mary and her perpetual Virginity is a direct outgrowth from her great honor and the many graces she received from being the Mother of God. It simply was not fitting in the eyes of God that His own Mother should ever see corruption ether in soul by sin or in the body (which we see also in the Dogma of the Assumption). Mary has, always has, and always will have her Virginity. She was a Virgin before she Conceived Jesus while she was pregnant with Jesus, and during and after she gave birth to Jesus. There was never a point nor will there ever be a point where Mary is not a Virgin. From Tradition we know that both Mary and Joseph were Virgins by a special consecration and vow which they made before their espousal and afterwards renewed together.
It had been fortold in the Old Testament that the messiah would be born of a Virgin (Isaias 7:14). Mary had given herself to the Lord for Him to do with her what He willed (Luke 1:38). He in fact had prepared her especially for this the most important task that would be asked of any human being: to be the Mother of God. It is no wonder then that Joseph was so very surprised when he found Mary with child. Although, contrary to what many modern scripture scholars would have us believe, he did not seek to put away is holy spouse because he believed any ill of her, but rather he recognized that this must be of God and therefore who she must be and he felt totally unworthy in his humility to be her spouse.
It is certainly made clear that she was indeed a virgin at the time she gave birth to Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew (Mt 1:18; Lk 1:34-35; 3:23). Many have used scripture however to suggest that sometime after she gave birth to Jesus that her virginity was lost, but this teaching is a defined dogma of our Catholic faith which we must believe or we cannot be saved:
“If anyone does not in accord with the Holy Fathers acknowledge the holy and ever virgin and immaculate Mary was really and truly the Mother of God, inasmuch as she, in the fullness of time,and without seed, conceived by the Holy Spirit, God in the Word Himself, who before all time was born of God the Father, and without loss of integrity brought Him forth, and after His birth preserved her virginity inviolate, let him be condemned.” -Pope Saint Martin I, Lateran Synod, 649 A.D.
Here now I have compiled a list of quotes that demonstrate the foundation upon which this Dogma was defined as having always been an article of the faith that must be believed by all the faithful. As you will see, tied up in this doctrine are two other teachings which are the natural consequence of our Lady’s perpetual virginity as well as her immaculate conception, and these are that our Lord’s birth was both miraculous and without pain for our Lady.
Evidence from Sacred Scripture
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
“Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.”
“Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.”
-Ezechiel 44:1-3 (see quote from Saint Ambrose below)
“A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”
-Song of Songs 4:12
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Evidence in the Recent Teachings of the Popes
“Within her virginal womb Christ our Lord already bore the exalted title of Head of the Church; in a marvelous birth (mirando partu edidit) she brought Him forth as the source of all supernatural life, and presented Him newly born, as Prophet, King and Priest to those who, from among Jews and Gentiles, were the first to come to adore Him..”
-Ven. Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 1943 AD
“O just, O most blessed Joseph, since thou art sprung from a royal line, thou hast been chosen from among all mankind to be spouse of the pure Queen who, in a way which defies description, will give birth to Jesus the king.”
-Ven. Pope Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam, citing a Byzantine prayer, 1954 AD
“Along with many others, the Seraphic Doctor held the same views. He considered it as entirely certain that, as God had preserved the most holy Virgin Mary from the violation of her virginal purity and integrity in conceiving and in childbirth, he would never have permitted her body to have been resolved into dust and ashes.”
-Ven. Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, citing Saint Bonaventure’s: De Nativitate B. Mariae Virginis, Sermo V., November 1 1950 AD
“Therefore, the life of Joseph’s pure spouse, who remained a virgin ‘during childbirth and after childbirth’ — as the Catholic Church has always believed and professed and as was fitting for her who was raised to the incomparable dignity of divine motherhood — was a life of such perfect union with the Son that she shared in His joys, sorrows and triumphs”
-Pope Paul VI, Signum Magnum, 1967 AD
“The Christmas season is a prolonged commemoration of the divine, virginal and salvific motherhood of her whose ‘inviolate virginity brought the Saviour into the world.’”
-Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, 1974
“Mary was therefore a virgin before the birth of Jesus and she remained a virgin in giving birth and after the birth. This is the truth presented by the New Testament texts, and which was expressed both by the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 553, which speaks of Mary as ‘ever virgin’, and also by the Lateran Council in 649, which teaches that ‘the mother of God…Mary…conceived [her Son] through the power of the Holy Spirit without human intervention, and in giving birth to him, her virginity remained incorrupted, and even after the birth her virginity remained intact.”
-Blessed Pope John Paul II, General Audience of Jan 28 1987
“It is a well-known fact that some of the Church Fathers set us a significant parallel between the begetting of Christ ex intacta virgine [from the inviolate Virgin] and his resurrection ex intacto sepulcro [from the sealed tomb]. In the parallelism relative to the begetting of Christ, some of the Fathers put the emphasis on the virginal conception, others on the virgin birth, others on the subsequent perpetual virginity of the Mother, but they all testify to the conviction that between the two saving events – the generation–birth of Christ and his resurrection from the dead – there exists an intrinsic connection which corresponds to a precise plan of God: a connection which the Church led by the Spirit, has discovered, not created. . . [I]t is necessary for the theologian, in presenting the Church’s doctrine on Mary’s virginity to maintain the indispensable balance between stating the fact and elucidating its meaning. Both are integral parts of the mystery: the meaning, or symbolic value of the event is based on the reality of the fact, and the latter, in turn, reveals all its richness only if its symbolic meanings are unfolded.”
-Blessed Pope John Paul II, during a talk in Capua Italy, June 10 1992
“With the shepherds let us enter the stable of Bethlehem beneath the loving gaze of Mary, the silent witness of his miraculous birth.”
-Pope Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi message of Christmas 2005
Evidences from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church
“Mary’s virginity was hidden from the prince of this world; so was her childbearing, and so was the death of the Lord. All these three trumpet-tongued secrets were brought to pass in the deep silence of God.”
-Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Father of the Church, Epistle to the Ephesians, 19; 107 AD
“Who loves you is amazed and who would understand is silent and confused, because he cannot probe the Mother who gave birth in her virginity. If it is too great to be clarified with words the disputants ought not on that account cross swords with your Son.”
-Saint Ephraim the Syrian, Father and Doctor of the Church, Songs of Praise 1, 2
“Believe in the Son of God, the Word before all the ages, who was…in these last days, for your sake, made Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary in an indescribable and stainless way,-for there is no stain where God is and whence salvation comes…”
-Saint Gregory Nazianzen; Bishop, Father, and Doctor of the Church; Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:45; 381 AD
“According to the condition of the body (Jesus) was in the womb, He nursed at His mother’s breast, He lay in the manger, but superior to that condition, the Virgin conceived and the Virgin bore, so that you might believe that He was God who restored nature, though He was man who, in accord with nature, was born of a human being.”
-Saint Ambrose of Milan; Bishop, Father, and Doctor of the Church; Mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation, 6:54; 382 AD
“Though coming in the form of man, yet not in every thing is He subject to the laws of man’s nature; for while His being born of a woman tells of human nature; virginity becoming capable of childbirth betokens something above man. Of Him then His mother’s burden was light, the birth immaculate, the delivery without pain, the nativity without defilement, neither beginning from wanton desire, nor brought to pass with sorrow. For as she who by her guilt engrafted death into our nature, was condemned to bring forth in trouble, it was meet that she who brought life into the world should accomplish her delivery with joy.”
St Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on the Nativity 388 AD
“This is the virgin who conceived in her womb and as a virgin bore a son.”
-Pope Siricius, 390 AD
“Who is this gate (Ezekiel 44:1-4), if not Mary? Is it not closed because she is a virgin? Mary is the gate through which Christ entered this world, when He was brought forth in the virginal birth and the manner of His birth did not break the seals of virginity…. There is a gate of the womb, although it is not always closed; indeed only one was able to remain closed, that through which the One born of the Virgin came forth without the loss of genital intactness”
-Saint Ambrose of Milan; Bishop, Father, and Doctor of the Church; The Consecration of a Virgin and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, 8:52; c. 391 AD
“It is not right that He who came to heal corruption should by His advent violate integrity”
-St. Augustine, Sermon 189:2
“She brought Him forth without the loss of virginity even as she conceived Him without its loss.… in the Lord Jesus Christ born from the womb of the Virgin, because His birth was miraculous, nature was not for that reason different from ours. For He who is true God, is likewise true man, and there is no falsehood in this unity, as long as there are alternately the lowliness of man and the exaltedness of the Divinity. For, just as God is not changed by His compassion, so man is not destroyed by His dignity. For each nature does what is proper to it with the mutual participation of the other; the Word clearly effecting what belongs to the Word, and the flesh performing what belongs to the flesh.”
-Pope Saint Leo the Great, Father and Doctor of the Church, Tome to Flavian
“Jesus Christ, true God and the same true man proceeded, that is, was born, while his mother’s virginity remained intact: for the Virgin remained such in bearing him just as she had in conceiving him”
-Pope Pelagius I, Letter to King Childebert I
“O mystery! I see miracles, and I proclaim the Godhead: I perceive sufferings, and I do not deny the humanity. For Emmanuel opened the doors of nature as man, but as God did not break through the bars of virginity”
-Saint Proclus of Constantinople, Bishop and Father of the Church, Oratio 1, no. 10; PG 65:692A (d. 447 AD)
“How can death claim as its prey this truly blessed one, who listened to God’s word in humility, and was filled with the Spirit, conceiving the Father’s gift through the archangel, bearing without concupiscence or the co-operation of man the Person of the Divine Word, who fills all things, bringing Him forth without the pains of childbirth, being wholly united to God?… It was fitting that the body of her, who preserved her virginity intact in childbirth, should be kept from corruption even after death. She who nursed her Creator as an infant at her breast, had a right to be in the divine tabernacles…. It was fitting that she who saw her Son die on the cross, and received in her heart the sword of pain which she had not felt in childbirth, should gaze upon Him seated next to the Father.”
-Saint John Damascene; Bishop, Father, and Doctor of the Church; Second Homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God
“So far as He was born of woman, His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while so far as He had no father, His birth was above the nature of generation: and in that it was at the usual time (for He was born on the completion of the ninth month when the tenth was just beginning), His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while in that it was painless it was above the laws of generation. For, as pleasure did not precede it, pain did not follow it, according to the prophet who says, Before she travailed, she brought forth, and again, before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child (Isaiah 66:7). The Son of God incarnate, therefore, was born of her, not a divinely-inspired man but God incarnate…. But just as He who was conceived kept her who conceived still virgin, in like manner also He who was born preserved her virginity intact, only passing through her and keeping her closed (Ezekiel 44:2).”
-Saint John Damascene; Bishop, Father, and Doctor of the Church; On the Orthodox Faith, IV, 14
Evidences from the Angelic Doctor Saint Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologiae, Tertia Pars, Q. 28, a. 2
On the contrary, In a sermon of the Council of Ephesus (P. III, Cap. ix) it is said: “After giving birth, nature knows not a virgin: but grace enhances her fruitfulness, and effects her motherhood, while in no way does it injure her virginity.” Therefore Christ’s Mother was a virgin also in giving birth to Him.
I answer that, Without any doubt whatever we must assert that the Mother of Christ was a virgin even in His Birth: for the prophet says not only: “Behold a virgin shall conceive,” but adds: “and shall bear a son.” This indeed was befitting for three reasons. First, because this was in keeping with a property of Him whose Birth is in question, for He is the Word of God. For the word is not only conceived in the mind without corruption, but also proceeds from the mind without corruption. Wherefore in order to show that body to be the body of the very Word of God, it was fitting that it should be born of a virgin incorrupt. Whence in the sermon of the Council of Ephesus (quoted above) we read: “Whosoever brings forth mere flesh, ceases to be a virgin. But since she gave birth to the Word made flesh, God safeguarded her virginity so as to manifest His Word, by which Word He thus manifested Himself: for neither does our word, when brought forth, corrupt the mind; nor does God, the substantial Word, deigning to be born, destroy virginity.”
Secondly, this is fitting as regards the effect of Christ’s Incarnation: since He came for this purpose, that He might take away our corruption. Wherefore it is unfitting that in His Birth He should corrupt His Mother’s virginity. Thus Augustine says in a sermon on the Nativity of Our Lord: “It was not right that He who came to heal corruption, should by His advent violate integrity.”
Thirdly, it was fitting that He Who commanded us to honor our father and mother should not in His Birth lessen the honor due to His Mother.
Reply to Objection 1. Ambrose says this in expounding the evangelist’s quotation from the Law: “Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” This, says Bede, “is said in regard to the wonted manner of birth; not that we are to believe that our Lord in coming forth violated the abode of her sacred womb, which His entrance therein had hallowed.” Wherefore the opening here spoken of does not imply the unlocking of the enclosure of virginal purity; but the mere coming forth of the infant from the maternal womb.
Reply to Objection 2. Christ wished so to show the reality of His body, as to manifest His Godhead at the same time. For this reason He mingled wondrous with lowly things. Wherefore, to show that His body was real, He was born of a woman. But in order to manifest His Godhead, He was born of a virgin, for “such a Birth befits a God,” as Ambrose says in the Christmas hymn.
Reply to Objection 3. Some have held that Christ, in His Birth, assumed the gift of “subtlety,” when He came forth from the closed womb of a virgin; and that He assumed the gift of “agility” when with dry feet He walked on the sea. But this is not consistent with what has been decided above (Article 14). For these gifts of a glorified body result from an overflow of the soul’s glory on to the body, as we shall explain further on, in treating of glorified bodies (XP, 82): and it has been said above (13, 3, ad 1; 16, 1, ad 2) that before His Passion Christ “allowed His flesh to do and to suffer what was proper to it” (Damascene, De Fide Orth. iii): nor was there such an overflow of glory from His soul on to His body.
We must therefore say that all these things took place miraculously by Divine power. Whence Augustine says (Sup. Joan. Tract. 121): “To the substance of a body in which was the Godhead closed doors were no obstacle. For truly He had power to enter in by doors not open, in Whose Birth His Mother’s virginity remained inviolate.” And Dionysius says in an epistle (Ad Caium iv) that “Christ excelled man in doing that which is proper to man: this is shown in His supernatural conception, of a virgin, and in the unstable waters bearing the weight of earthly feet.”
Summa Theologiae, Tertia Pars, Q. 35, a. 6
On the contrary, Augustine says (Serm. de Nativ. [Supposititious), addressing himself to the Virgin-Mother: “In conceiving thou wast all pure, in giving birth thou wast without pain.”
I answer that, The pains of childbirth are caused by the infant opening the passage from the womb. Now it has been said above (28, 2, Replies to objections), that Christ came forth from the closed womb of His Mother, and, consequently, without opening the passage. Consequently there was no pain in that birth, as neither was there any corruption; on the contrary, there was much joy therein for that God-Man “was born into the world,” according to Is. 35:1,2: “Like the lily, it shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise.”
Reply to Objection 1. The pains of childbirth in the woman follow from the mingling of the sexes. Wherefore (Genesis 3:16) after the words, “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children,” the following are added: “and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power.” But, as Augustine says (Serm. de Assumpt. B. Virg., [Supposititious), from this sentence we must exclude the Virgin-Mother of God; who, “because she conceived Christ without the defilement of sin, and without the stain of sexual mingling, therefore did she bring Him forth without pain, without violation of her virginal integrity, without detriment to the purity of her maidenhood.” Christ, indeed, suffered death, but through His own spontaneous desire, in order to atone for us, not as a necessary result of that sentence, for He was not a debtor unto death.
Reply to Objection 2. As “by His death” Christ “destroyed our death” [Preface of the Mass in Paschal-time, so by His pains He freed us from our pains; and so He wished to die a painful death. But the mother’s pains in childbirth did not concern Christ, who came to atone for our sins. And therefore there was no need for His Mother to suffer in giving birth.
Reply to Objection 3. We are told (Luke 2:7) that the Blessed Virgin herself “wrapped up in swaddling clothes” the Child whom she had brought forth, “and laid Him in a manger.” Consequently the narrative of this book, which is apocryphal, is untrue. Wherefore Jerome says (Adv. Helvid. iv): “No midwife was there, no officious women interfered. She was both mother and midwife. ‘With swaddling clothes,’ says he, ‘she wrapped up the child, and laid Him in a manger.'” These words prove the falseness of the apocryphal ravings.
Evidence from the Roman Catechism, ordered by the Council of Trent by the authority of Pope Saint Pius V and edited by Saint Charles Borromeo
“But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of our Lord presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine. Besides, what is admirable beyond the power of thoughts or words to express, He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity, just as He afterwards went forth from the sepulchre while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut; or, not to depart from every day examples, just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity. This immaculate and perpetual virginity forms, therefore, the just theme of our eulogy. Such was the work of the Holy Ghost, who at the Conception and birth of the Son so favoured the Virgin Mother as to impart to her fecundity while preserving inviolate her perpetual virginity.”
Evidences from Early Christian Apocryphal Writings
“And after two months of days while Joseph was in his house, and Mary his wife, but both alone. It came to pass that when they were alone that Mary straight-way looked with her eyes and saw a small babe, and she was astonished. And after she had been astonished, her womb was found as formerly before she had conceived. And when her husband Joseph said unto her: “What has astonished thee?” his eyes were opened and he saw the infant and praised God, because into his portion God had come. And a voice came to them: “Tell this vision to no one.” And the story regarding the infant was noised broad in Bethlehem. Some said: “The Virgin Mary hath borne a child, before she was married two months.” And many said: “She has not borne a child, nor has a midwife gone up (to her), nor have we heard the cries of (labour) pains.””
-“Ascension of Isaiah” 11:7-14; c. 70 AD
“So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life. She bore as a strong man, with will”
-“Odes of Solomon” 19:6-10; c. 80 AD
Evidence from Private Revelation
“I saw the radiance round the Blessed Virgin ever growing greater. The light of the lamps which Joseph had lit was no longer visible. Our Lady knelt on her rug in an ample ungirt robe spread out round her, her face turned toward the east. At midnight she was wrapt in an ecstasy of prayer. I as her lifted from the earth, so that I saw the ground beneath her. Her hands were crossed on her breast. The radiance about her increased; everything, even things without life, were in a joyful inner motion, the stones of the roof, of the walls, and of the floor of the cave became as it were alive in the light. Then I no lager saw the roof of the cave; a pathway of light opened above Mary, rising with every-increasing glory towards the height of heaven. In this pathway of light there was a wonderful movement of glories interpenetrating each other, and, as they approached, appearing more clearly in the form of choirs of heavenly spirits. Meanwhile the Blessed Virgin, borne up in ecstasy, was now gazing downwards, adoring her God, whose Mother she had become and who lay on the earth before her in the form of a helpless new-born child. I saw our Redeemer as a tiny child, shining with a light that overpowered all the surrounding radiance, and lying on the carpet at the Blessed Virgin’s knees. It seemed to me as if He were at first quite small and then grew before my eyes. But the movement of the intense radiance was such that I cannot say for certain how I saw it.”
-Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary (a transcription of her visions)