Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Calvin: "There have been certain strange folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children..."

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This entry is a follow-up to: Tim Staples Says: Apologists Make Mistakes Too! There has been some interesting discussion on the blog entry recently posted by Mr. Staples about Calvin's view of Mary's perpetual virginity.

One point of interest was an obscure Calvin quote used by the Roman Catholic author Max Thurian, Mary: Mother of All Christians, pp. 39-40. His book was originally written in French in 1962. Thurian states:
Lastly Calvin's thought is made even more clear in a sermon on Matt. 1:22-25, which was published in 1562 in the shorthand notes of Denys Ragueneau: "There have been certain strange folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! for the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph's obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company. There we see that he had never known her person for he was separated from his wife. He could marry another all the more because he could not enjoy the woman to whom he was betrothed; but he rather desired to forfeit his rights and abstain from marriage, being yet always married: he preferred, I say, to remain thus in the service of God rather than to consider what he might still feel that he could come to. He had forsaken everything in order that he might subject himself fully to the will of God.
And besides this, our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or no there was any question of the second. Thus we see the intention of the Holy Spirit. This is why to lend ourselves to foolish subtleties would be to abuse Holy Scripture, which is, as St. Paul says, "to be used for our edification."(21)
(21) La Revue réformée 1956/4, pp. 63-64.

Documentation
If one checks Thurian's documentation for his Calvin quote, it doesn't appear to me that he actually utilized a primary source, but rather took his citation from La Revue réformée 1956/4, pp. 63-64. In other words, the Calvin quote in question that is presented in English came from the French, and was taken from a French journal. Where did the French journal get it? Did the journal article use the primary source? I don't know. Thurian says the sermon was published in 1562.  It's unclear to me when exactly the sermon was preached. T.H.L. Parker says Calvin began preaching on a Harmony of the Gospels in 1559 and did so until the end of his life, so it could very well have been 1562, but since the book was published in 1562, I would posit it was probably preached sometime between 1559-1561 (see Parker's chart here). One other interesting detail is that "Calvin left the publishing of his sermons to to others with the exception of four sermons which he revised and published..."

I tracked down the actual sermon. All the sources I checked mentioned that the person who took the shorthand notes on Calvin's sermons during this period, Denys Ragueneau, was a paid professional in this field, and his abilities surpassed earlier attempts to capture Calvin's sermons.

Context
Typical of Calvin on this issue, the subject matter of the entire sermon does not dwell on Mary, and even less on Joseph. The quote in question is more of a passing comment, or more of an an end-note (for lack of a better term) stuck right at the very end of the sermon:


The English Calvin translation from  Neville B. Cyer of Thurian pp. 38-39 is good, but leaves out some things:
And notably it is said that he did not know the Virgin until she had given birth to her first Son. By this the Evangelist means that Joseph had not taken her as his wife to live with her, but rather to obey God, and to fulfill his obligation to her. It was thus not for reasons of carnal love, nor for profit, nor for anything else that he took her as his wife; it was to obey God and to show that he accepted the grace proffered. This was a blessing, that he could not even fully appreciate. Here is what we must retain.
There have been certain strange folk who have wished to suggest from this passage  that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! for the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph's obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company. There we see that he had never known her person for he was separated from his wife. He could marry another all the more because he could not enjoy the woman to whom he was betrothed; but he rather desired to forfeit his rights and abstain from marriage, being yet always married: he preferred, I say, to remain thus in the service of God rather than to consider what he might still feel that he could come to. He had forsaken everything in order that he might subject himself fully to the will of God.
And besides this, our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or no there was any question of the second. Thus we see the Holy Spirit's intention. To give ourselves over to subtle foolishness on this question would be to abuse the holy Scriptures, which is to be useful for our edification, as St Paul says. As for the rest, when men are so unstable and have such itching ears for new and appealing speculations, the devil must possess them as much as they harden themselves, so that they not be brought to the right path and thus trouble heaven and earth; rather, they must maintain their errors and dreams with a diabolical obstinacy. How much the more must we be sober to receive the doctrine that is given to us to accept the Redeemer who is sent to us from God his Father, and that we know his virtue so as to learn to hold ourselves fully in him.
Thus we bow down before the majesty of our good God.

Analysis
There are similarities between this comment and Calvin's earlier comments on Mary's virginity. In the well-known comments from Calvin's Commentaries, his basic point is that a necessary inference that Mary had other children cannot be made from the Biblical texts of Matthew 13:55 and 1:25, and it's “folly” to make a text say more than it does. In this sermon he likewise stresses that "Though some fantasies have been expressed that this passage is teaching that the virgin Mary had other children than Jesus and that Joseph lived with her afterwards, this is nonsense. The Evangelist had no interest in reciting what happened after."

There are some differences as well. When Calvin says, "And besides this, our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence," Calvin's commentary says, "He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin."

The sermon comments have some interesting details about Joseph. One thing to keep in mind is not reading into what Calvin is saying. For instance, when Calvin says, "He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company," and "Joseph had not taken her as his wife to live with her," it would be inconsistent within the context to conclude Calvin is saying that Joseph and Mary never lived together, even after the birth of Jesus. Calvin is not speculating as to what happened afterwards based on this verse (that's his main point!).  It would be a contextual error then to think Calvin here means that Joseph was some sort of monk never dwelling with Mary. The point Calvin is making concerns the period of betrothal. See particularly Calvin's comments on Matthew 1:18-25 where Calvin says "before they came together" means "before they came to dwell together as husband and wife, and to make one home and family" and "The meaning will thus be, that the virgin had not yet been delivered by her parents into the hands of her husband, but still remained under their roof." See also Calvin's comments on Luke 2:1-7 and Luke 2:48-58.

Calvin never comes right out and says Mary was a perpetual virgin, as Roman Catholics understand it. Calvin quite explicitly denies that Mary took a vow of perpetual virginity in his commentary on Luke 1:34-38:
The conjecture which some have drawn from these words, that she had formed a vow of perpetual virginity, is unfounded and altogether absurd. She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage; which could not have been done without mockery of God. Although the Papists have exercised barbarous tyranny on this subject, yet they have never proceeded so far as to allow the wife to form a vow of continence at her own pleasure. Besides, it is an idle and unfounded supposition that a monastic life existed among the Jews.

We must reply, however, to another objection that the virgin refers to the future, and so declares that she will have no intercourse with a man. The probable and simple explanation is that the greatness or rather majesty of the subject made so powerful an impression on the virgin, that all her senses were bound and locked up in astonishment, when she is informed that the Son of God will be born, she imagines something unusual, and for that reason leaves conjugal intercourse out of view. Hence she breaks out in amazement, 'How shall this be?"
But if one reads between the lines of the sermon, it appears Calvin is saying Mary had no other children besides Jesus. Without any clear denial that Mary was not a perpetual virgin, and with comments that safeguard against the idea that Mary had other children- I think this is why so many writers have concluded Calvin held to the perpetual virginity of Mary- it's a conclusion from inference rather than a direct admission from Calvin. The problem with the conclusion is that it goes against Calvin's specific guidelines- to not speculate beyond what he thought the Scriptures stated. To be fair to Calvin is to allow him to say what he said, not what we want him to say. If one really wanted to give Calvin's opinion on this issue, it is to simply say that Calvin did not think it correct to speculate. This isn't the answer polemicists want to hear, but it is letting Calvin be Calvin.


The Argument From Tim Staples on Calvin and Perpetual Virginity
Mr Staples eventually changed his original blog entry. He originally stated:

This second myth is even more widespread. I have found it not only taught and published by many Catholics, but I even found one popular Calvinist apologist who has it up on his website as being true. And that is, John Calvin actually taught the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. He did not.
He revised it to:

This second myth is even more widespread, but I must qualify it. There can be no doubt that John Calvin, at least at some point in his career, believed in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. But to place him on the same level of Luther, Zwingli and Wesley is misguided. It is not to paint the entire picture accurately.

Mr. Staples was right originally. There is no explicit teaching from John Calvin on Mary's perpetual virginity. What there is are statements from Calvin saying not to go beyond the text of scripture to speculate as to whether or not Mary had other children.  In regard to the revised statement, the "one point in his career" in which Calvin is said to have believed in Mary's perpetual virginity is the sermon published in 1562 discussed above.  The way Mr. Staples sees it is that this sermon is "earlier in his career" as compared to Calvin's final word on the matter in his Commentary published in 1563. According to T.H.L. Parker though, Calvin's commentary on the Synoptics was published in 1555. As I stated above, the sermon is probably from 1559-1561. It would appear to me that the commentary was before the sermon. Even if the Staples dating scenario is correct and Calvin vacillated on this question in the span of year at the end of his life- this seems like a stretch to me- certainly possible, but hardly likely. Calvin was a consistent theologian. Certainly there were changes in his thinking, but they typically were not saying one thing one year and the opposite the next.

On the other hand, Mr. Staples makes some interesting arguments that I'd like to contrast with some comments from Steve Hays :

...[I]f we read further in Calvin's commentary and head over to Luke 1:34, in volume 2 of this same work I mentioned above, he seems to deny what he had earlier accepted as true.

Luke 1:34 is the famous text where Mary, having heard God's invitation for her to become the Mother of God through the message of the Archangel Gabriel, asks the obvious question: "How shall this be since I know not man?" In other words, "How is this going to happen since I do not plan on having conjugal relations?" For more details on this and more, get my book!

Calvin's commentary on this text reads: “The conjecture which some have drawn from these words, that she had formed a vow of perpetual virginity, is unfounded and altogether absurd. She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage…”

Notice here, he not only denies this text could be used to prove Mary had a vow of Perpetual Virginity before her marriage to St. Joseph, but that this "would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage." This would seem to deny the Perpetual Virginity of Mary itself as a possible consideration for Calvin, and it seems to be a change in Calvin's thinking on the matter.

So what may have informed this change? I argue, it may well have been his understanding of the "covenant" of marriage. Remember, John Calvin did not believe marriage to be a sacrament that is ratified as such at the altar of a church and then consummated on the wedding night. It was a "covenant" conditioned upon certin essential things, including the exchange of vows, a minister present, public witnesses, and the consummation. In his commentary on Eph. 5:28, for example, he says:
Marriage was appointed by God on the condition that the two should be one flesh; and that this unity may be the more sacred, he again recommends it to our notice by the consideration of Christ and his church.
The consummation, for Calvin, was essential to marriage. But even more, in his commentary on Eph. 5:31:
And they two shall be one flesh. They shall be one man, or, to use a common phrase, they shall constitute one person; which certainly would not hold true with regard to any other kind of relationship. All depends on this, that the wife was formed of the flesh and bones of her husband. Such is the union between us and Christ, who in some sort makes us partakers of his substance. 'We are bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh,' (Ge 2:23;) not because, like ourselves, he has a human nature, but because, by the power of his Spirit, he makes us a part of his body, so that from him we derive our life.

If "all is dependent upon this," it is no wonder that Calvin (and this followers today) would eventually come to view the PVBVM as out of the question.

The Argument From Steve Hays
This same point Mr. Staples makes was alluded to recently by Steve Hays:
Finally, there's a substantive theological issue. If Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage, then it was never a real marriage (by Jewish standards). In that event, Jesus is not the legal stepson of Joseph, in which case he can't trace his family tree through either the Matthean or Lucan genealogies.
I'm not exactly sure what Calvin would say about this argument in regard to Mary and Joseph. To be consistent, any sort of comment would be going beyond Calvin's stated opinion into the realm of speculation. In terms of sheer logic, the point Hays makes is cogent, and I would agree with him.

Hays also says,
It comes as no revelation that the Protestant Reformers agreed with the Latin Church and (some) church fathers on a number of issues. There's continuity as well as discontinuity. So it wouldn't be some great coup to discover points of agreement between Luther or Calvin with the Latin Church or some church fathers. That was never in dispute.  
Hays gets to the heart of the issue. What I've found is that the alleged Mariology of the Reformers has been used by the defenders of Rome to show that the Reformers practiced sola scriptura and held to distinctly Roman doctrines. Therefore, they argue a few different ways:

a) Romanism is biblical
b) Sola Scriptura is inconsistent (or all Protestants should agree as to what the Scriptura teaches)
c) To be consistent Protestants, following the direct opinions of the original Protestants is necessary.

Hays though points out what any good Protestant historian would say: within all periods of church history, there is continuity and discontinuity. It doesn't surprise me or embarrass me as a Protestant to discover Luther believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Nor does the view of Calvin that appears to affirm the notion of perpetual virginity between the lines while at the same time saying not to speculate beyond the Biblical text. When one closely scrutinizes the Mariology of the Reformers, one finds exactly what Hays says: there's continuity as well as discontinuity with the Reformers and earlier periods of church history as well as the period in which they lived.

12 comments:

Brigitte said...

Calvin I can't speak for, but with Luther we always have the pastoral concern for those who hold their pious opinions and can't change so fast, taking into consideration their weaknesses and scruples. Mary's so-called perpetual verginity, not attested to in the authoritative writings, should not even be an item of discussion at this point. Personally speaking, the fact that we hear about brothers, though that can be a vague or metaphorical term, makes me think that Mary's perpetual virginity was NOT something someone was trying to vigorously assert. I don't much care about what Luther, Calvin or any Pope had to say about it. It seems that Calvin was trying to sit on the fence. In this matter, it seems to me to be a safe place to sit.

As for me, I can't see scripture promoting the view of the perpetual virginity. I think we are safest to just say that. And in addition, I think it is none of our business. If we care about Christian unity and want to be apologists for the faith, I think we would be better off refraining from having a hardened opinion or doctrine here.

Scott Eric Alt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Swan said...

ut as James has promised to write a piece on why Protestants are so adamant on Mary not being a Perpetual Virgin this week, the ball is in his court and I will wait before going any further

I recall saying I'd offer some comments, but I doubt I'll do a blog post. Super busy this week. This particular entry on Calvin & Staples took quite a few days to put together because of my schedule. I put it together 10 minutes at time over a few days.

EA said...

When Mary and Joseph took 12 year old Jesus up to Jerusalem, we see no mention of younger brothers and sisters, right?

A fair question, though this argument also cuts against the Epiphanian view that James, Joses, Simon, and three or more sisters were the naturally born children of Joseph and a wife prior to Mary.

A further issue for this view is the question of where were the children from Joseph's previous marriage when Mary & Joseph fled to Egypt with Jesus (Mt. 2:13)?

The word "brother" can mean any male relative.

This is true to the extent that the usage in context warrants that interpretation. Are you claiming that no usage of the term adelphos in the Bible can be known for certain?

Brigitte said...

Guy, the Lutheran church confesses Mary, the Theotokos, that Christ is Lord, the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian creed. It is not a feuding, contradictory church, not any more or less than those who have more liberal or conservative views ( note the strife and discussion at your current synod). If anyone has picked a fight, it is the RC church with those who were the prophets in its midst. It should repent.

The point that a consecrated life, so to speak, is more holy, is just what does not work for me, a faithful, married woman. The reformation taught us to take our humble daily callings seriously, and serve our neighbor in them. Whether Mary was a perpetual virgin or a faithful wife does not make her more or less holy, especially since it is Christ's righteousness that makes us holy. Mary, herself, would have no other holiness, if you tried to attribute it to her. She would decline it. See her own words of praise in the Magnificat.

Brigitte said...

Hey, James! The Sermons on Matthew came!

Guy, it sounds to me like you don't understand your Bible nor why Christ came and had to die, nor the true humility of Mary, for which we can truly love her as a fellow redeemed through the Son.

The young man should have realized that he was in need of Savior, and not keeping the law, as he thought he was. He is one looking to his own righteousness thinking that he has kept the law. He wants to do even more to save himself, as if that were possible. Jesus takes that line of thinking to the end for him, and he sees that it does not work for him. But to rely solely on Jesus was not what he wanted either, as we can see.

Again, contrast Mary's humility to his hubris.

Brigitte said...

Christ told the Rich Young Ruler that if he wanted to go further than merely keeping the law, doing the minimum, he could sell all and follow Him. The Law nowhere demands vows of poverty, chastity or obedience, what are called the Evangelical Counsels.


Guy, no where in the Bible is keeping the moral law called "doing the minimum." Everywhere and at all times people have trouble keeping it. See the entire Old Testament, and search your own heart. Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount how we fail to keep the law from the heart.

Adding to the burden with vows of chastity, etc. has driven many a man and woman away from the church in despair. Adding burdens is not something Christ came to do (my burden is light). Christ's burden is light because through the forgiveness of sins we can follow him joyfully from the heart.

James Swan said...

I haven't had a chance to read the Matthew commentary yet. What I have done though is sift through some of my older blog posts to see if I cited this recently translated material.

Brigitte said...

I got started on it. It blasts out of the gate on marriage and divorce. He says some unflattering things about Muslim "marriage", the kind of thing we have heard elsewhere from him.

Brigitte said...

And for Guy, there is a long section involving the subject of: "It is better to marry than to burn" (1 Corinthians). He goes through the history of men emasculating themselves and the Pope forbidding it. Anyone who was going to do it, would not be fit for church vocation. And so on. And to be honest, in my gut feeling, I have to say, it was not expected of Joseph either.

He mentions the boy Jesus going to the temple three times a year. This was expected for the first-born male. Hence, if there were children, they might not all have travelled every time. ( -- just saying because Guy brought it up.)

Brigitte said...

I am not a Calvinist, and I don 't just isolate one text from another. Scripture interprets scripture.

There is only one Jesus, and you can take his corpus of sermons and sayings together and you can ponder what he meant. He often tried to just make people think.

If you think Mary was sinless, listen to Paul's words again in Romans 3
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[b]
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”[c]
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”[d]
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[e]
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”[f]
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

If Mary needed a Savior, she needed a Redeemer, as the words are synonymous.

Brigitte said...

Guy, I am starting to feel sorry for you. There are so many things that have "salvific significance". This is what happens when salvation comes from something other than trusting and confessing Christ. Why would now this word from the cross throw my salvation into question? There are so many ways to lay burdens on people's consciences. There are so many ways of robbing people of the "salvific significance" of the cross itself. Guy, Christ died also for all of your sins, for all the ways you have not kept the law, in word or deed, to thought, as well as things left undone. And he never mandated you to go through Mary, the Saints departed, nor did he demand acts of super rogation. This is all man made stuff.