Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Argumentation for Mary's Perpetual Virginity by Epiphanius

Originally posted on the aomin blog, 9/04/08

Many Roman Catholic websites will refer to the early church father Epiphanius of Salamis (310/320-403) as a source to substantiate early traditions concerning Marian doctrines. For instance, on Mary's perpetual virginity, This Rock Magazine, December 1991 and This Rock Magazine, February 2002 use him as historical support. Recently I posted an argument for Mary's perpetual virginity from Epiphanius. I'd like to share a few more of his arguments in favor of Mary's perpetual virginity. While it may be true that a particular church father held a Marian view similar to what Rome teaches today, Catholic apologists rarely explain the reasoning or differences between the current view and the ancient view. The argumentation used by ancient writers rarely matters for Catholic apologists. It cannot be denied that Epiphanius believed in Mary's perpetual virginity, but would the modern Catholic apologist grant the validity of Epiphanius's argumentation?

Epiphanius states, "For I have heard from someone that certain persons are venturing to say that [Mary] had marital relations after the Savior's birth. And I am not surprised. The ignorance of persons who do not know the sacred scriptures well and have not consulted histories, always turn them to one thing after another, and distracts anyone who wants to track down something about the truth out of his own head." Well so far, these words could be from a host on Catholic Answers Live. Let's take a look at the argumentation used and see how Biblical it is. Below are six arguments from Epiphanius in support of Mary's perpetual virginity.

Argument #1- Mary's title is "Virgin"

6.1 Why this ill will? Why so much impudence? Isn't Mary's very name (i.e. "Virgin") a testimony, you troublemaker? Doesn't it convince you? Who, and in which generation, has ever dared to say St. Mary's name and not add "Virgin" at once when asked? The marks of excellence show from the titles of honour themselves. (2) For the righteous received the honors of their titles appropriately for them and as it became them. "friend of God" was added to the name, "Abraham," and will not be detached from it. The title, "Israel," was added to "Jacob" and will not be changed. The title "Boanerges," or "sons of thunder," was given to the apostles and will not be discarded. And St. Mary was given the title, "Virgin," and it will not be altered, for the holy woman remained undefiled. Frank Williams, trans., The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) 78. Against Antidicomarians, 15,4 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), pp. 604-605.

Argument #2- Mary wasn't entrusted to Joseph for marriage

7.2 To begin with, when it fell to the Virgin's lot to be entrusted to Joseph she was not entrusted to him for marriage, since he was a widower. (3)He was called her husband because of the Law, but it plainly follows from the Jewish tradition that the Virgin was not entrusted to him for matrimony (Ibid.p. 605).

8.2 So we are told in the Gospel, for it says, "Mary, his espoused wife;" it didn't say, "married wife" (Ibid. p. 606).

Argument #3- Joseph was to old to have children with Mary

7.5 For how could such an old man who had lost his first wife so many years before, take a virgin for a wife? (Ibid.).

8.4 In the first place, the course of nature entirely confutes them. An old man of over eighty did not take a virgin as a sexual partner to begin with; she was committed to his protection. (Ibid., p. 606).

8.5 If even today (many of the faithful) strive to remain virgin, pure and continent in his name, wasn't Joseph more faithful? And Mary herself, "who," as scripture says, "pondered all things in her heart?" After a dispensation of that sort, as such greatness and importance (how could it not be wrong) for an elderly man to have relations once more, with a pure and honored virgin, a vessel which had contained the Uncontainable and had received such a mystery of a heavenly sign and man's salvation? (Ibid., p. 607).

10.5 But nowhere have we heard that Joseph fathered (more) sons. Indeed, he did not live many years after his return from Egypt, for it was the Savior's forth year, while Joseph was over eighty-four when he arrived from Egypt. And Joseph survived for another eight years; and Jesus in his twelfth year, as it says in the Gospel according to Luke, he was sought for on their journey to Jerusalem, when he could not be found on the road (Ibid., p. 608).

20.3 For even if it was expected that the Virgin would have relations with Joseph, an impossibility because of his age, the holy scriptures show us in advance, and confirms our notion, (to) convince (us) that, although the thing is possible despite the sacred childbirth, no man(may) ever again approach the Virgin for sexual relations- convincing us in the same way in which the angel convinced Joseph that his suspicion was unfounded (Ibid., p. 616).

Argument #4- The "brothers of Jesus" are children from Joseph's first wife

7.5 Joseph was the brother of Cleopas but the son of Jacob surnamed Panther; both of these brothers were the sons of the man surnamed Panther. (6) Joseph took his first wife from the tribe of Judah and she bore him six children in all, four boys and two girls, as the Gospels according to Mark and John have made clear [Mark 6:3; John 19:25] (Ibid. p. 605).

Argument #5- Mary's alleged other children are not named in the Bible

9.1 Where can I not find proof that the Virgin remained pure? For a starter, let them show me that Mary bore children after the savior's birth! Let these designers and reciters of deceit and mischief make the names up and give them! But they can't show them because she was still a virgin and perish the thought, had no sexual relations! (Ibid., p. 607).

Argument #6- Interpretation of "and he knew her not"

17.7b "And he knew her not." For how could he know that a woman would receive so much grace? Or how could he know that (the Virgin) would be so highly glorified? (8) He knew that she was a woman by her appearance, and her womanliness by her sex, and knew that her mother was Ann and her father Joachim, that she was related to Elizabeth, that she was of the house and lineage of David. But he did not know that anyone on earth, especially a woman, would be honored with such glory. (9) He did not know how wondrous she was until he had seen "that which was born of her." But when she gave birth he also knew the honor God had done her, for it was she who had been told, "Hail, thou art highly favored, the Lord is with thee" (Ibid. p. 614).

In all of these arguments, one is hard pressed to find Biblical support. Some of the argumentation is very similar to material found in the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal source. Epiphanius doesn't argue that the brothers of Jesus are cousins, as most of the current pop-apologists do. Rather, his view is that these are children from Joseph's previous marriage. This would be a minority view among Roman Catholics today. Epiphanius states that incorrect views on Mary's virginity stem from ignorance of the sacred scriptures. I would not deny Epiphanius knew scripture, I would though argue his incorrect views on Mary are the result of poor exegesis and tradition being foisted onto the Biblical text, rather than letting the text speak for itself.


Viisaus said...

And yet it was this same Epiphanius who rejected the cult of Mary out of hand (in the original Greek, he condemned the "proskynesis"-worship offered to Mary, not "latreia").

Epiphanius even anticipated the Protestant idea that Jesus Christ was sometimes intentionally rude to His mother because He knew that people would be tempted to idolize Mary in the future, and thus counteracted such tendencies:

"But St. Epiphanius, Doctor (a.d.403), is the most precise. Arguing against a new heresy, that of the Collyridians (a body within the Church, not a sect outside it, and so called from a small cake they offered in sacrifice), he says that they began in reaction against those who showed disrespect to the Blessed Virgin, and ran into extreme error thereby. And he contemptuously remarks that this special kind of "idolatrous heresy" has only women for its promoters, because they are fickle, weak, narrow-minded, and prone to error. He goes on to argue that as no mere man can be made an object of worship, much less can the Blessed Virgin, as a woman, and so belonging to the inferior sex, be so treated, and that St. Mary was not granted any priestly authority, nor permission to baptize, though we might have expected that she, rather than John the Baptist, would have baptized Christ; and continues,

"Mary's body was holy indeed, but she was not a Deity. She was a Virgin, too, and honoured, but not given to us for worship, but worshipping Him born of her in the flesh, who came down from Heaven and the Father's bosom. Wherefore the Gospel warns us, saying by the voice of the Lord Himself, 'Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.' [He says this] in order that from the phrase, 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' people might understand that the holy Virgin was not more than human. So He called her "Woman," as in prophecy, because of the heresies and schisms which were to come upon the earth, lest any one, though excessive adoration for that Holy Virgin, should fall into the silly nonsense of that heresy. ... For if Christ willeth not that the Angels should be worshipped, how much more is He unwilling that worship should be paid to her who was born of Anna. ... Let Mary be honoured, but let the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be worshipped. Let no one worship Mary. ... Let women who act thus be put to silence by Jeremiah, nor any longer trouble the world, nor say, 'Let us honour the Queen of Heaven.'"

— (Adv. Haer. lxxix.)"

Viisaus said...

The writer who provided the above excerpt (a high-church Anglican Richard F. Littledale) thought that it was not until the latter half of the 5th century that Mariolatry really began to develop, from shady sources - and he cited the testimony of an RC church historian Tillemont for this claim:


"And it is a very remarkable fact that the first great step taken towards the cultus of the Blessed Virgin came, not from any Saint, but from one of the most notorious heretics and evil-doers in Church history, Peter the Fuller, intruded Patriarch of Antioch in the fifth century; who united in his teaching the errors of the Sabellians, Valentinians, Apollinarians, and Eutychians, was condemned and anathematised by more than one Pope and Council, and was infamous for his crimes as simoniac, tyrant, and murderer. He it was who first enjoined that mention should be made of the Blessed Virgin in all prayers.1

1. Tillemont, "Mém." xvi. 375."

J.H. Newman also confirms with his "hostile testimony" that in the days of Epiphanius, Mary-worship was not yet in fashion:

"Dr. Newman himself, disclaiming the doctrine that the Invocation of the Virgin is necessary to salvation, says (Letter to Pusey, p. III): 'If it were so, there would be grave reasons for doubting of the salvation of St. Chrysostom or St. Athanasius, or of the primitive martyrs. Nay, I should like to know whether St. Augustine, in all his voluminous writings, invokes her once.' But he holds (p. 63) that, though 'we have no proof that Athanasius himself had any special devotion to the Blessed Virgin,' yet, by teaching the doctrine of our Lord's Incarnation, 'he laid the foundations on which that devotion was to rest.'"

And we can see how things connect with each other; it was in the latter half of the 5th century when the fable of Mary's "Assumption to Heaven" (now dogmatically binding for all RCs) first came up:

"The first four Christian centuries are silent regarding the end of the Virgin Mary's life, though it is asserted, without surviving documentation, that the feast of the Dormition was being observed in Jerusalem shortly after the Council of Ephesus.[4]

At the point in the later fifth century when the earliest Dormition traditions surface in manuscripts, Stephen Shoemaker has detected[5] the sudden appearance of three distinct narrative traditions describing the end of Mary's life: he has characterised them as the "Palm of the Tree of Life" narratives, the "Bethlehem" narratives, and the "Coptic" narratives—aside from a handful of atypical narratives."

Rhology said...

Thus the folly of trying to appeal to "church fathers" for authoritative teaching.
You have to examine those men's arguments. Like all men, they used some good and some bad arguments. These here are the latter.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"The Argumentation for Mary's Perpetual Virginity by Epiphanius"

Arguments for Mary's Perpetual Virginity are heard.

Arguments for Mary's Perpetual Virginity are rejected.

Ron Van Brenk said...

On my blog, I have presented the argument of Jerome. A contemporary of this Epiphanius.

A far better judge of canonical works and a far better scholar than Epiphanius. Yet Jerome's logic is sometimes weak.
And here is Jerome's primary argument-
That "until" in Matthew 1:25 doesn't necessarily mean "only until".

Which I then argue-
But that would then render the word "until" both unnecessary and diversionary. A waste of both ink and the inkling of the verse- in an age of expensive writing materials.

My argument may be read here-

Matt said...

Useful for comparison here?