July 12, 2024
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DID MARY HAVE OTHER CHILDREN? Lenten Lecture (ABUJA)

DID MARY HAVE OTHER CHILDREN?
Lenten Lecture (ABUJA)

I. Introduction

Our topic today is on our Mother Mary. Discussions on Mary are usually deeply controversial. It has been so for a long time in history. Unknown to many who join in the bandwagon of protest against Mary, all controversies against her are inter-related; be it on whether she is the Mother of God, Immaculate Conception, Ever Virgin, Other Children, etc. This on Other Children of Mary is not different; just one of the smokes.

But before we proceed, it is imperative make some categorical statements:

i. ALL THAT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH BELIEVES AND TEACHES ABOUT MARY ARE DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY ROOTED IN WHO SHE (THE CATHOLIC CHURCH) BELIEVES JESUS IS.

 

ii. WHILE IN SOME CASE THE BIBLE MAY NOT BE EXPLICIT ON SOME TEACHINGS ON MARY, INFERENCE IS MADE BASED ON WHO JESUS TRULY IS AND HIS MISSION AS REVEALED BY THE SCRIPTURES; AND AS RELATED TO MARY’S ROLE IN THIS MISSION.

 

iii. WHEN WE CONSIDER FOR INSTANCE THE LITANY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, WE OBSERVE THAT ALL THE TITLES ONLY HAVE MEANING BECAUSE OF MARY’S RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS: Ark of the Covenant, Gate of Heaven, Mother of God, Vessel of Honour, Singular Vessel of Devotion, Queen of the Apostles, etc

 

In view of the above, we can only DISCUSS (not argue) about Mary with those who have a proper understanding of the Church and her mission; surely not with charlatans or atheistic philosophers or Christian atheists for that matter. This is about divine matters.

 The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

“Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it” (CCC 964).

This is very important foundation for any meaningful discussion about the person, nature and role of Mary in the Church. Thus, before engaging in any discussion with anyone on the subject of MARY, it is important to always ask the person: WHO DO YOU BELIEVE JESUS TO BE? So we ask: WHO IS JESUS?

  II. Who is Jesus?

Besides the issue of the nature of the Trinity which the Church contended with in the first four centuries, the other problem the Church battled with from the 5th to the 7th century bordered on the nature and person of Jesus (the implication of incarnation).

To settle the dispute concerning the nature of Jesus, the Council of Chalcedon was called in A.D. 451. This council promulgated what later was known as the Chalcedon Symbol, which reads in part:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [coessential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Fa­ther according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Vir­gin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, insepara­bly; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence.—Pmur. SCHAFF, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2, p. 62.

We may summarize the Church’s teaching on who Jesus is as follows:

i. Christ is God in the highest sense.

 John 9:35. “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”; John 5:23. “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”; Matthew 9:6. “The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”

ii. Christ, who is God in the highest sense, became man.

John 1:14. “And the Word was made flesh.” (Christ became what He was not.); John 8:58. “Before Abraham was, I am” (cf. Ex. 3:14); 1 John 4:2. “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.”

Acts 2:22. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man ap­proved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs.”

iii. Christ was completely divine and hu­man at the same time. He was called Son of God and Son of man.

Galatians 4:4 is very instructive in this regard. The passage distinctly points out that at the fullness of time, God sent his only begotten son, born of a woman, born a subject of the law. The offspring of God is God; the offspring of a woman is human. Luke 1:35. “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Philippians 2:7. “Made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (See Luke 19:10; John 6:62.) Hebrews 4:15. “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

iv. Christ was sinless.

John 14:30. “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” This means that Jesus as God cannot share in evil or sin in any way. To be God he must be totally shielded from sin. This has a lot of implication or consequences on our mother Mary. We believe that “in taking upon Himself man’s nature in its fallen condi­tion, Christ did not in the least participate in its sin.”

If Jesus is God and must be God, Mary must be free from any shade of sin. A sinful Mary and a God-Jesus cannot go together.

The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him.” So, in Christ also never “for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity.” “Not even by a thought could Christ be brought to yield to the power of temptation.”

 

III. Catechism of the Catholic Church

i. On Jesus
The Nicene Creed wraps all this up by saying that Jesus is true God and true man. In other words, Jesus is God, through and through. There is no factor of divinity missing in Jesus. He always existed and always will exist. All things exist through him, with him, and in him. He is the source of all that is, the beginning and the end of everything.

At the same time, Jesus is truly human. That means that even though he was, is, and always will be God, in a moment of time he entered history as a human being (Gal. 4:4).  The opposite of time is eternity. Like all of us he was conceived (but by the power of the Holy Spirit), born, lived, loved, laughed, wept, suffered, and died; but was sinless.

ii. On Mary
a.
Quoting that very significant passage again, Gal. 4:4; At the fullness of time, God sent his only son, born of a woman, born a subject of the law.

b. The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, which is believed de fide (i.e. held by Catholics as being an essential part of faith), states that Mary was a virgin before, during and after giving birth for all her life. The threefold nature of this doctrine (referring to before, during and after) thus subsumes the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus.
This doctrine also implies that Mary would never have given birth to any children other than Jesus.
c. This teaching was accepted by Church Fathers and defended by a number of ecumenical councils between the 5th and the 7th century. Worthy of note is the fact that not only Catholics accepted this teaching, Anglicans, Easter and Oriental Orthodox, as well as Protestant reformers like Martin Luther and John Wesley also believed and taught it.

The entire foregoing are essential because among other things the matter whether or not Mary had other children cannot be treated in isolation since it is derived from what each person believes who Jesus is.
In the event that who we discuss with believes in all we have stated above, which means that he/she implicitly believes in the bible, we can go on to discuss the particular issue at hand. Hence the question: Did Mary really have other children?

IV. The Church’s Teaching

Specifically on the subject whether Mary had other children, the Catholic Church teaches:
“Jesus was the only son of Mary, Mary did not have a marital relation with Joseph, rather she remained a virgin throughout her whole life, her virginity remains intact even during and after the birth of our Lord, as a sign of her undefiled devotion to God, an unmerited gift from God to Mary.” (CC 411,490-493).

V. Protestant Objections

In other to refute the above teaching of the Church, Protestants quote the following passages of the bible with the following conclusions.
A. (Mt 12:46ff) “While he was still speaking to the people, behold his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers ….?

Error A Conclusion: Jesus had brothers, therefore Mary had other children.

B. (Matthew 13:55) “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Judas?” (The addition in John 6:42 is instructive “…..how can he now say he comes from heaven?”)

Error B Conclusion: The names of Mary’s other biological children are James, Joseph and Judas

C. (Mk 6:3) “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters with us?”

Error C Conclusion: Besides the four boys, Mary also had some female children.

D. (Luke 2:7) “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths…”

Error D Conclusion: If Jesus was the “firstborn” therefore there was/were second born and probably more “borns”.

VI. Catholic Position from Biblical Exegesis, Tradition and Critical Reasoning

A. Error A: on Mt 12:46ff
“Brothers of Jesus”
It is not difficult to observe from the bible that there are many senses in which the word “brother” is used among the Jewish people. We will show four instances here.

i. As a child from the same parents, same father or mother (Biological)

a) Gen 4:1-2 Cain and Abel were both sons of Adam and Eve

b)  Gen 37:4 Genesis 37:4 (Joseph and his brothers, all sons of Jacob.)

“But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more
than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak   peaceably to him.”

ii. As Relatives/Cousins or Nephew

a) Compare Gen 12:5 (Then Abram took Sarah his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all …”) with Gen 14:13 (Now Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred ….) and finally with Gen 14:16 (So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people). We notice here that Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, was later referred to as Abraham’s brother.

iii. Friends And Associates

a) In 2 Sam 1:26, David calls Jonathan his brother

b) 1 Sam 30:23 David said to the soldiers with him, “my brothers, you shall not do so with what the Lord has given us …..

iV. Same House or Nation

2 Kings 19::12. Gen 16:12, Ex 2:11

v. Brotherhood in Faith

Rom 14:10, 13,15 “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?”
From the above, and even from our African context we know that we just cannot conclude that “brothers” in Mt 12:46 necessarily meant biological children of Mary. There is hardly any culture in Africa that has a word for cousin, nephew or niece! Do you know of one? It is usually descriptive.

Before going into much discussions on this topic, it is advisable to ask the protestant what Luther’s position is on this topic.

On this matter, MARTIN LUTHER teaches:

“Christ ….. was the only son of Mary, and the Virgin Mother bore no more children besides Him ….”
“Brothers” really means cousins here, and Holy writ and Jews have always called cousins brother.”
(Martin Luther: Sermons on John 1-4).

Origen in A.D. 248 teaches that “The Book [the Protoevangelium] of James [records] that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word . . . might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the first fruit among men of the purity which consists in [perpetual] chastity, and Mary was among women. For it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the first fruit of virginity” (Commentary on Matthew 2:17 [A.D. 248]).

B. Error B On Mt 13:55
The names James, Joseph, Simon and Judas are mentioned as brothers of Jesus. Let us search for these names in other contexts.

a. In Mk 15:47 we hear of Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses
(Joseph) observing where Jesus was laid. So there is a Mary who is the mother of one Joses (Joseph)

b. Mt 27:56 gives further insight to the above as it mentions that the Mary who is the mother of Joses is also the mother of James. That cannot be a coincidence that both names appeared in the list of names given in Mt. 13:55. It requires further probing. Who is this Mary, mother of Joses and James which Mt. 27:56 speaks about?

c. Mark 10:35 shows that there is also the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (cf. Mt. 26:37, Mt. 20:20)

d. Mt 10:2-3 listing the twelve disciples of Jesus mentioned James the son of Zebedee and his brother John.

e. That means there are two people by the name James. One is the brother of Joses, the other is Zebedee’s son who is the brother of John both of whom are apostles of Jesus.

f. It is this brother of John that Paul refers to in Gal 1:19 when he says: I saw none of the other apostles…only James, the Lord’s brother.” Thus while Mt. 10 2-3 makes us to understand that James was an apostle of Jesus, Paul in Gal.1:19 referred to him as “the Lord’s brother”, when he said “I saw none of the other apostles, only James, the Lord’s brother.” It cannot be the other James, brother of Joses, because he was not one of the apostles. Why entrust Mary to John is James was HIS BROTHER and was around by the way?

g. Mention is also made in John 19:25 that at the foot of cross were the mother of Jesus, and His (Jesus’) mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Refer to Mt. 27:56 where we saw Mary the mother of Joses.

h. It is not likely that this Mary referred to as “His mother’s sister” is of the same parents with Mary the mother of Jesus because it is not normal Jewish practice or anywhere that children of the same parents go by the same name.

i. Going by the frequency of association, Mary the wife of Clopas is surely a close relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus; not her biological sister.

j. Hegesippus, the Jewish historian and bible scholar records that Clopas was the brother of Joseph, Mary’s husband. This means that the two Marys are sisters in the sense we understand in Africa, and James is a first cousin of Jesus.

 B2.    FINDING IN THE TEMPLE EVENT

iThe above point is implicitly supported by the “finding in the temple” event Lk 2:41ff.

ii. In particular, Lk 2:44 said “supposing him to have been in the company, they (Mary and Joseph)
went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.

iii. From the story of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus and the threats to his life at infancy, we are in no doubt that Joseph and Mary were responsible parents. Therefore, the only reason they could have gone home to Nazareth without their son was that they were very confident he was in the safe company of some relatives. That must be a very close relation; possibly the Clopas family.

iv. Secondly, though Jesus was already 12 years by this time, none of the evangelists made mention of the where about of his (Jesus’) other brothers and/or sisters. Does it mean he was still an only child as at then?

 C. Error C Mk 6:3

i. Besides mentioning the names of four brothers, Mt 6:3, also noted that there were sisters.

ii. “Sisters” means that they were at least two or more than two. By implication, if we are to accept the protestant’s position, Mary had at least six (6) other children; with Jesus makes seven!

iii. This is ridiculous, to say the least. It would have made some sense if we were talking about 3 or at most 4 children. Joseph was already advanced in age; history has it that he already had other children from previous marriage. Now having seven children leaves more to be desired.

iv.If Jesus had all these brothers and sisters, how come none of them was mentioned, even in passing, during his trials and persecution? They must be have been terribly heartless brothers and sisters indeed, if not even one of them could come close to their brother at those agonising moments, and no one cared to console their mother in her sorrow.

v. If the brothers and sister of Jesus chickened away during the tough experience on the road to Calvary and the events after, stranger is the fact that none of them still showed up when the rage was calm. Like a good son, conscious of the enormous challenges of a widow without a son in the Jewish culture to protect and defend her, Jesus had to hand over the care of his mother to John (Jn. 19:25-27). This is most impossible for a man whose mother had other sons. Incidentally John is not among the four names mentioned in Mt 13:55.

vi. Looking into history, Hilary of Poitiers says that “If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate” (Commentary on Matthew 1:4 [A.D. 354]).

D. Error D firstborn son

i. People interpret “her firstborn son” to imply that there were other children or son. That is not correct at all.

ii. The term firstborn has two main meanings. The first is the literal, referring to the fact that this son is the first son to be born of his father. The second meaning refers to the rights and authority of a person, because they are the firstborn.

iii. Firstborn, like first fruits, first offspring of animals, was very significant in Jewish culture. It was mark of authority, leadership and strength.

iv. The laws and customs of all nations show that to be “firstborn” means, not only priority in time, but a certain superiority in privilege and authority. Being the firstborn son, like the first fruit, he is to be dedicated to the Lord (cf Ex. 8:2); he had a very significant role in the Jewish culture and religion. Deut 21:17 recommended a double portion of inheritance to him. Israel is Yahweh’s firstborn among the nations (Ex 4:22; compare Jer. 31:9).

v. In the case of Mary, firstborn emphasized that our mother Mary never had a child before. It also emphasized the importance of the child. Jesus was the first-born (pro…tokos) of his mother (Mt. 1:25; Lk. 2:7), a phrase which allows, but does not demand, that Mary had other, later children.

vi. One who has been appointed by God to be in authority over all things (Colossians 1:13-23; especially verses 15, 18). “All things have been created through him, and unto him” (Col 1:16). God summons all His angels to worship Him (Heb 1:6). In His resurrection He is “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18) or “of the dead” (Rev 1:5).

vii. Furthermore, the fact that one speaks of a first son, does not necessarily imply the presence of a second or third. In some Nigerian cultures, we have special names for the first son (Akpan), first daughter (Ada), second daughter (Nwa), second son(Udoh), twins (Taiye and Kehinde) and those born after twins (Idowu), etc. These names do no depend on what comes next.

viii. Didymus the Blind says “It helps us to understand the terms ‘first-born’ and ‘only-begotten’ when the Evangelist tells that Mary remained a virgin ‘until she brought forth her first-born son’ [Matt. 1:25]; for neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone else, nor did she ever become the Mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever an immaculate virgin” (The Trinity 3:4 [A.D. 386]).

 VII FROM TRADITION

i. Jerome says, “[Helvidius] produces Tertullian as a witness [to his view] and quotes Victorinus, bishop of Petavium. Of Tertullian, I say no more than that he did not belong to the Church. But as regards Victorinus, I assert what has already been proven from the gospel—that he [Victorinus] spoke of the brethren of the Lord not as being sons of Mary but brethren in the sense I have explained, that is to say, brethren in point of kinship, not by nature.

[By discussing such things we] are . . . following the tiny streams of opinion. Might I not array against you the whole series of ancient writers? Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and many other apostolic and eloquent men, who against [the heretics] Ebion, Theodotus of Byzantium, and Valentinus, held these same views and wrote volumes replete with wisdom. If you had ever read what they wrote, you would be a wiser man” (Against Helvidius: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary 19 [A.D. 383]).

Furthermore St Jerome affirms that “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” (ibid., 21).

ii. Ambrose of Milan says “Imitate her [Mary], holy mothers, who in her only dearly beloved Son set forth so great an example of material virtue; for neither have you sweeter children [than Jesus], nor did the Virgin seek the consolation of being able to bear another son” (Letters 63:111 [A.D. 388]).

iii. Pope Siricius I argues “You had good reason to be horrified at the thought that another birth might issue from the same virginal womb from which Christ was born according to the flesh. For the Lord Jesus would never have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the eternal king” (Letter to Bishop Anysius [A.D.392]).

iv. Cyril of Alexandria teaches that “[T]he Word himself, coming into the Blessed Virgin herself, assumed for himself his own temple from the substance of the Virgin and came forth from her a man in all that could be externally discerned, while interiorly he was true God. Therefore, he kept his Mother a virgin even after her childbearing” (Against Those Who Do Not Wish to Confess That the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God 4 [A.D. 430]).

v. Pope Leo I asserts that “His [Christ’s] origin is different, but his [human] nature is the same. Human usage and custom were lacking, but by divine power a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bore, and Virgin she remained” (Sermons 22:2 [A.D. 450]).

III. Conclusion
Having come this far, I would love to conclude this piece by posing some questions which I consider very pungent. I prefer each person to draw their conclusions from the answers thereof.

i. Is it possible to live on earth without ever sexual relation?
ii. Can Jesus still be God if he was contaminated by sin directly or indirectly?
iii. Can Jesus still be God if Mary is with sin?
iv. If Jesus is really God, will his mother be an ordinary woman?
v. Did our first parents have sin?
vii. Is God capable of repeating what he did in the past?
viii. What is better, a mother of Jesus who is most pure and spotless, or one who is carnal?

(Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Michael Nsikak Umoh is a priest of Lagos Archdiocese, currently on a national assignment as the National Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja. By acknowledging the author, this material can be used in magazines. Anyone who may want to produce it in form of a simple pamphlet for distribution, will need express permission and collaboration with the author. Contact: 08023062860).

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