Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Perpetual Virginity of the Holy Mother of God, St. Jerome

O holy Saint Jerome, Champion of Virginity, pray for us!
 
The Perpetual Virginity of the Holy Mother of God, by St. Jerome
 
(1-4 of 24)
 
1. I was requested by certain of the brethren not long ago to reply to a pamphlet written by one Helvidius. I have deferred doing so, not because it is a difficult matter to maintain the truth and refute an ignorant boor who has scarce known  the first glimmer of learning, but because I was afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating.
 
There was the further consideration that a turbulent fellow, the only individual in the world who thinks himself both priest and layman, one who, as has been said, thinks that eloquence consists in loquacity and considers speaking ill of anyone to be the witness of a good conscience, would begin to blaspheme  worse than ever if opportunity of discussion were afforded him. He would stand as it were on a pedestal, and would publish his views far and wide.
 
There was reason also to fear that when truth failed him he would assail his opponents with the weapon of abuse. But all these motives for silence, though just, have more justly ceased to influence me, because of the scandal caused to the brethren who were disgusted at his ravings. The axe of the Gospel  must therefore be now laid to the root of the barren tree, and both it and its fruitless foliage cast into the fire, so that Helvidius who has never learned to speak, may at length learn to hold his tongue.

2. I must call upon the Holy Spirit to express His meaning by my mouth and defend the virginity of the Blessed Mary. I must call upon the Lord Jesus to guard the sacred lodging of the womb in which He abode for ten months from all suspicion of sexual intercourse. And I must also entreat God the Father to show that the mother of His Son, who was a mother before she was a bride, continued a Virgin after her son was born.
 
We have no desire to career over the fields of eloquence, we do not resort to the snares of the logicians or the thickets of Aristotle. We shall adduce the actual words of Scripture. Let him be refuted by the same proofs which he employed against us, so that he may see that it was possible for him to read what is written, and yet to be unable to discern the established conclusion of a sound faith.

3. His first statement was: "Matthew says, Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately.
 
But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto you Mary your wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Notice, he says, that the word used is betrothed, not entrusted as you say, and of course the only reason why she was betrothed was that she might one day be married. And the Evangelist would not have said before they came together if they were not to come together, for no one would use the phrase before he dined of a man who was not going to dine. Then, again, the angel calls her wife and speaks of her as united to Joseph. We are next invited to listen to the declaration of Scripture: Matthew 1:24-25 "And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she had brought forth her son."

4. Let us take the points one by one, and follow the tracks of this impiety that we may show that he has contradicted himself. He admits that she was betrothed, and in the next breath will have her to be a man's wife whom he has admitted to be his betrothed. Again, he calls her wife, and then says the only reason why she was betrothed was that she might one day be married. And, for fear we might not think that enough, "the word used," he says, "is betrothed and not entrusted, that is to say, not yet a wife, not yet united by the bond of wedlock."
 
But when he continues, "the Evangelist would never have applied the words, before they came together to persons who were not to come together, any more than one says, before he dined, when the man is not going to dine," I know not whether to grieve or laugh. Shall I convict him of ignorance, or accuse him of rashness? Just as if, supposing a person to say, "Before dining in harbour I sailed to Africa," his words could not hold good unless he were compelled some day to dine in harbour. If I choose to say, "the apostle Paul before he went to Spain was put in fetters at Rome," or (as I certainly might) "Helvidius, before he repented, was cut off by death," must Paul on being released at once go to Spain, or must Helvidius repent after death, although the Scripture says "In sheol who shall give you thanks?"
 
Must we not rather understand that the preposition before, although it frequently denotes order in time, yet sometimes refers only to order in thought? So that there is no necessity, if sufficient cause intervened to prevent it, for our thoughts to be realized. When, then, the Evangelist says before they came together, he indicates the time immediately preceding marriage, and shows that matters were so far advanced that she who had been betrothed was on the point of becoming a wife. As though he said, before they kissed and embraced, before the consummation of marriage, she was found to be with child. And she was found to be so by none other than Joseph, who watched the swelling womb of his betrothed with the anxious glances, and, at this time, almost the privilege, of a husband. Yet it does not follow, as the previous examples showed, that he had intercourse with Mary after her delivery, when his desires had been quenched by the fact that she had already conceived.
 
And although we find it said to Joseph in a dream, "Fear not to take Mary your wife"; and again, "Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife," no one ought to be disturbed by this, as though, inasmuch as she is called wife, she ceases to be betrothed, for we know it is usual in Scripture to give the title to those who are betrothed. The following evidence from Deuteronomy establishes the point. Deuteronomy 22:24-25 "If the man," says the writer, "find the damsel that is betrothed in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her, he shall surely die, because he has humbled his neighbour's wife." And in another place, Deuteronomy 22:23-24 "If there be a damsel that is a virgin betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then you shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and you shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he has humbled his neighbour's wife: so you shall put away the evil from the midst of you." Elsewhere also, Deuteronomy 20:7 "And what man is there that has betrothed a wife, and has not taken her? Let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her."
 
But if anyone feels a doubt as to why the Virgin conceived after she was betrothed rather than when she had no one betrothed to her, or, to use the Scripture phrase, no husband, let me explain that there were three reasons. First, that by the genealogy of Joseph, whose kinswoman Mary was, Mary's origin might also be shown. Secondly, that she might not in accordance with the law of Moses be stoned as an adulteress. Thirdly, that in her flight to Egypt she might have some solace, though it was that of a guardian rather than a husband. For who at that time would have believed the Virgin's word that she had conceived of the Holy Ghost, and that the angel Gabriel had come and announced the purpose of God?
 
And would not all have given their opinion against her as an adulteress, like Susanna? For at the present day, now that the whole world has embraced the faith, the Jews argue that when Isaiah says, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son," the Hebrew word denotes a young woman, not a virgin, that is to say, the word is Almah, not Bethulah, a position which, farther on, we shall dispute more in detail.
 
Lastly, excepting Joseph, and Elizabeth, and Mary herself, and some few others who, we may suppose, heard the truth from them, all considered Jesus to be the son of Joseph. And so far was this the case that even the Evangelists, expressing the prevailing opinion, which is the correct rule for a historian, call him the father of the Saviour, as, for instance, Luke 2:27 "And he (that is, Simeon) came in the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, that they might do concerning him after the custom of the law;" and elsewhere, Luke 2:41 "And his parents went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover." And afterwards, "And when they had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and his parents knew not of it."
 
Observe also what Mary herself, who had replied to Gabriel with the words, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" says concerning Joseph, Luke 2:48 "Son, why have you thus dealt with us? Behold, your father and I sought you sorrowing." We have not here, as many maintain, the utterance of Jews or of mockers. The Evangelists call Joseph father: Mary confesses he was father. Not (as I said before) that Joseph was really the father of the Saviour: but that, to preserve the reputation of Mary, he was regarded by all as his father, although, before he heard the admonition of the angel, Matthew 1:20 "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto you Mary your wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost," he had thoughts of putting her away privily; which shows that he well knew that the child conceived was not his. But we have said enough, more with the aim of imparting instruction than of answering an opponent, to show why Joseph is called the father of our Lord, and why Mary is called Joseph's wife. This also at once answers the question why certain persons are called his brethren. (5.) This, however, is a point which will find its proper place further on. [...]



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