- Perpetual virginity of Mary
The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, expresses the Virgin Mary's "real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to Jesus the Son of God made Man". According to the doctrine, Mary was ever-virgin (Greek ἀειπάρθενος, aeiparthenos) for the whole of her life, making Jesus her only biological son, whose conception and birth are held to be miraculous.
By the fourth century, the doctrine had been widely supported by the Church Fathers, and by the seventh century had been affirmed in a number of ecumenical councils. The doctrine is part of the teaching of Catholicism and Anglo-Catholics, as well as Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, as expressed in their liturgies, in which they repeatedly refer to Mary as "ever virgin".
Some early Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther supported the doctrine however later reformed teaching largely abandoned it. The doctrine of perpetual virginity is however currently maintained by some Anglican and Lutheran theologians.
Doctrine and representations
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 this doctrine (referring to before, during and after) thus subsumes the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus.
The doctrine of perpetual virginity is also distinct from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which relates to the conception of the Virgin Mary herself without any stain (macula in Latin) of original sin.
The Greek term Aeiparthenos ( ἀειπάρθενος, i.e. "Ever Virgin") is attested to by Epiphanius of Salamis from the early 4th century. It is widely used in the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (item 499) also includes to the term Aeiparthenos and referring to the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium (item 57) states: "Christ's birth did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it." The doctrine of perpetual virginity is also held by some Anglican and some Lutheran churches, but not all of those churches endorse the doctrine. Eastern Orthodox liturgical prayers typically end with "Remembering our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary".
The virginity of Mary at the time of her conception of Jesus is a key topic in Marian art in the Catholic Church, usually represented as the annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel that she would virginally conceive a child to be born the Son of God. Frescos depicting this scene have appeared in Roman Catholic Marian churches for centuries. The oldest fresco of the annunciation is a 4th century depiction in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome.
Mary's virginity even after her conception of Jesus is regularly represented in the Christian art of both the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox (as well as in early Western religious art) by including in Nativity scenes the figure of Salome, whom the Gospel of James presents as finding that Mary had preserved her virginity even in giving birth to her son. In many icons, Mary's perpetual virginity is signified by three stars that appear on her left, her right, and above her or on her head, which represent her virginity before, during and after giving birth.
Development of the doctrine
As of the second century, a good deal of interest developed within the early Church regarding the conception of Jesus and the virginity of Mary. The majority of early Christian writers accepted the virginal conception of Jesus via reliance on the accounts in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Yet, the focus of these early discussions was of virginity before birth, not during or afterwards.
A second century document that paid special attention to Mary’s virginity was originally known as the Nativity of Mary, but later became known as the Protoevangelium of James. The document discusses Mary’s virginity before birth, the absence of labor pains, and how a midwife’s examination demonstrated Mary’s virginity during birth, thus asserting the virginity of Mary before, during, and after the birth of Jesus.
The work also claims that Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters" are Joseph’s children from a marriage previous to his union with Mary. This text does not explicitly assert Mary's perpetual virginity after the birth of Jesus. But another book, "The History of Joseph the Carpenter", presents Jesus as speaking, at the death of Joseph, of Mary as "my mother, virgin undefiled".
The "brothers" and "sisters" of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels, and the "James, the Lord's brother", mentioned in Galatians 1:19, "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James", mentioned by Josephus were thus interpreted as not being children of Mary. Origen was emphatic on the issue of the brothers of Jesus, and stated that he believed them to have been the children of Joseph from a previous marriage.
There was no full consensus on the doctrine of perpetual virginity within the early Church by the end of the second century, e.g. Tertullian did not teach the doctrine (although he taught virgin birth), but Irenaeus taught perpetual virginity, along with other Marian themes. However, wider support for the doctrine began to appear within the next century.
Church Fathers and the Middle Ages
By the 4th century, the doctrine of perpetual virginity had been well attested. For example, references can be found in the 3rd century writings of Hippolytus of Rome, who called Mary "the tabernacle exempt from defilement and corruption,"  and the 4th century works of Athanasius, Epiphanius, Hilary, Didymus, Ambrose, Jerome, and Siricius continued the attestations to perpetual virginity - a trend that gathered pace in the next century.
John Chrysostom defended perpetual virginity on a number of grounds, one of which was Jesus' commands to his mother in Calvary: "Woman, behold your son!" and to his disciple "Behold, thy mother!" in John 19:26-27. Since the second century these two statements of Jesus from the cross had been the basis of reasonings that Mary had no other children and "from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home" because after the deaths of Joseph and Jesus there was no one else to look after Mary, and she had to be entrusted to the disciple.
By the time of Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo, with the increased emphasis on Marian piety, a wider role for Mary began to appear in the context of the history of salvation. Augustine himself presented a number of arguments in favor of the doctrine of perpetual virginity. By the end of the 4th century, Luke 1:34 (How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?) had started to be read as a passage that indicated a "vow of perpetual virginity" on the part of Mary.
The concept of Mary's vow of virginity had already appeared in the Protovangelium (4:1) which asserted that Mary's mother, Anne, gave Mary as a "virgin of the Lord" in service in the Temple, and that Joseph, a widower, was to serve as her guardian (legal protections for women depended on their having a male protector: father, brother, or, failing that, a husband). Early in the 7th century, in the Short Book on the Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary Isidore of Seville connected the Mariological and Christological themes by linking the virginity of Mary to the divinity of Christ in a single line of argument. The Lateran Council of 649, attended by Maximus the Confessor, explicitly affirmed the teaching of Mary's virginity before, during and after birth. This was further affirmed at the sixth ecumenical council in 680.
Over the centuries the interpretation of Mary as an ever virgin bride of the Lord who had taken a vow of perpetual chastity spread and was in full vogue by the time of Rupert of Deutz in the 12th century. By the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas had fashioned long and detailed theological arguments in defense of the doctrine and stated that a denial of the perpetual virginity of Mary would be derogatory to the perfection of Christ, an insult to the Holy Spirit, and an affront to the dignity of the Mother of God.
Mary, the Second Eve
As of the fourth century, in discussing God's plan of salvation, a parallel theme began to appear in which Mary's obedience (be it unto me according to thy word in Luke 1:38) and the doctrine of perpetual virginity were counter-positioned against Adam and Eve, just as Jesus' obedience was counter positioned against that of Adam in Romans 5:12-21.
The concept of Mary as the Second Eve was first introduced by Justin Martyr around 155 AD. In this perspective, which was discussed in detail by Irenaeus, supported by Jerome, and then grew further, the vow of obedience and virginity of Mary positioned her as the "Second Eve" as part of the plan of salvation, just as Jesus was positioned as the Second Adam.
The theme developed by the Church Fathers ran parallel to the theme developed by Apostle Paul in Romans 5:18-21 when he compared Adam's sin with the obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father, all the way to Calvary: "For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous." In the same manner, Mary's obedience to the statements of the angel, and her adherence to her vow of perpetual virginity was seen as a remedy for the damage caused by Eve.
The Second Eve teaching continued to grew among Catholics, and in discussing perpetual virginity, the 1566 Catechism of the Council of Trent explicitly taught that while Eve by believing the serpent brought malediction on the human race, Mary by believing the angel brought benediction to mankind.
The concept of the Second Eve has continued to remain part of Catholic teachings, e.g. Pope Pius XII referred to it in the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi and Pope John Paul II referred to it in a General Audience at the Vatican in 1980.
The start of the Protestant Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century did not immediately bring about a rejection of the doctrine of perpetual virginity and several leaders of the Reformation provided varying degrees of support for it, at times without directly endorsing it.
The early Protestant reformers felt that Scripture required the acceptance of the virgin birth of Jesus, but only permitted the acceptance of perpetual virginity. Over time, many Protestant churches stopped teaching the doctrine and other Protestant churches denied it.
Support by early reformers
Prayers & devotions