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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Siblings of Jesus

by Catherine Frakas 20 Aug 2001

Siblings of Jesus QUESTION from Ray Boucher January 7, 2001 I know that the church teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary and interprets the term brother of Jesus as applying to cousin or half-brother.
My question: What is the source of this tradition?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on March 19, 2001 Mr. Boucher:
The Bible.
On the term brother. It is a fact of the linguistics of Hebrew that brother meant cousin in addition to sibling brother. Hebrew doesn't have a word that exclusively means brother as a sibling.
Second Jewish custom and law required that at the death of the husband, the care of the family passed to the eldest son. At the death of the eldest son, the care of the family passed to the next eldest son.
If Jesus had had brothers, it would have been custom and law for him to entrust the care of his mother to his brother. But Jesus did not do that. Jesus, from the Cross, entrusted his mother to John. That is about as close to absolute proof as one can get that Jesus had no brothers.
But this is also substantiated with the issue of Mary's perpetual virginity.
In order to understand this, one must understand the concept of the sacred. Unfortunately, especially in the profane culture of the United States, we have almost no idea of what sacred means.
The Old Testament gives us the true meaning of sacredness. Although I could write a whole book on this subject (and maybe I will), I will give a couple of quick examples of the nature of sacredness.
By the way, sacred means to set aside for a holy purpose. That is, the sacred is set apart from the mundane and ordinary things. That is why the Tabernacle in the Old Testament had veils that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world.
The sacred is holy. It is where God touches the material world. Thus we learn in the Old Testament that one took off one's shoes when entering a holy ground (i.e. Moses at the burning bush; and priest entering the Holy of Holies).
We learn that the holy place must not be corrupted by the presence of the worldly. (Shoes represents the dirt from the world). But also only those specifically consecrated could enter the Holy of Holies. When the high priest, authorized to enter this holiest of places, did enter the Holy of Holies a rope was tied around his leg. This was to drag him out of the Holy of Holies should he die while in there. Since others were not allowed into the Holy of Holies (where the Ark of the Covenant was kept) this is the only way they could get the High Priest out if he die for they could not enter even to retrieve the dead body.
The seriousness of this separation of the holy, this sacredness, is also seen the story of when the Ark of the Covenant was being brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Ark as the holiest of all things could not be touched by unconsecrated hands. In the course of the journey the Ark was about to fall over into the mud. This must not be allowed. After all, this was the place that the presence of God resided. Thus a well-meaning man touched the Ark to keep it from falling. He was struck dead on the spot.
Why? The man was good willed. He merely wanted to keep the Ark from falling into the mud. Yet he was struck dead! Whether or not his intentions were good, the High Sacredness of the Ark COULD NOT be touched by unconsecrated hands. The sacredness must be maintained upon pain of death. This was the very presence of GOD, afterall.
Now with these examples, one more fact about that which is sacred. Once something is made sacred it can normally never again be returned to profane (non-sacred) use. If a table is consecrated an altar, it becomes a holy object and it can never again be used as a mere table.
I could go on, but let is go ahead and tie this into the perpetual virginity.
Mary HAD to be virgin. Her womb was the Ark of the New Covenant - the holiest of all that is holy on earth, the place in which the touch of God meets the material world. Mary's womb must be unblemished and untouched as it was to house the body, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. She HAD to be without sin (immaculate conception in which the grace of the Cross was applied to her -- she was saved from original sin and actual sin -- from the moment of her conception) and she had to be virgin for the presence of God to be within her womb.
She also HAD to be virgin AFTER the birth of Jesus. This is so as we learned about the nature of sacredness that once something has been set-aside for holy purpose it is not to ever again be used for regular/normal purposes. What God has touched in such a way cannot be used for non-sacred purposes ever again.
If you will excuse the crude reverse example to help understand the principle, if we use a spoon to clean out the cat liter box, we will likely never again use it to serve food despite the fact that we could clean the spoon and use it for its normal purpose. That spoon as been set aside.
A positive example, a wedding dress has been set aside for a wedding. No one that I know of, would ever wear a typical wedding dress for any other purpose. It is set-aside for the wedding and the wedding alone.
Good China may be another example. The good China is set-aside for special dining occasions and never used for regular everyday meals.
These examples are trivial perhaps but illustrate the set-aside principle in which once the item is set-aside for a purpose, it is not used for another purpose.
Another example might be the Bible. The Bible is a holy book. Although the leather and paper that makes up the Bible is not holy, once that leather and paper is constructed into a book with the holy words of God imprinted upon them, we treat that bundle of paper differently. Would most people take this bundle of paper, once it is fashioned into the Bible, and use it for a door-stop? Most people give respect to the Bible (the physical leather and paper of the book) and would never do such a thing.
Well, how much more respect, honor, and perpetual purity shall be assigned to the Ark of the Covenant where the very presence of the God of the Universe was kept. As the Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament is forever a holy object, so is the Ark of the New Covenant -- Mary's womb.
Mary MUST remain virginal perpetually.
If this was not the case, then God's teaching to us about the sacred and how we treat the sacred would be a lie. If this was not the case, then then man who died when his kindly tried to keep the Ark from falling in to the died in vain.
This is one reason why Mary is not just another mother. She is the one FULL OF GRACE and to be honored ABOVE ALL WOMEN.
In Luke 1:42 Elizabeth upon meeting Mary who was with child proclaimed (using the KJV): And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
And in Verse 48 (again from KJV): For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
ALL GENERATIONS will call her blessed. That includes our generation. It means that she will be considered blessed for ALL TIME.
And the reference here to blessed is not an ordinary one as if she is one among many. The context is clear that Mary is not one among many, but unique and exalted above all others. Any other interpretation of the text would be dis-honest.
Why is she so honored? Because she is the sacred Ark of the New Covenant which is forever sacred.
God honors her also as Mother. Mothers hold a special place, and Jesus held a special place in His heart for his Mother and thus granted her privileges that no other person had. Do we not do that with our mothers within the capacity we have. Well, Jesus, with infinite capacity as God, extended that which was in His power to grant, the special graces that the Church has recognized and honored since the earliest times.
To bring this full circle: Mary had a special place in the heart of Jesus special privileges were extended to her as any of us would do for our mothers, but in this case doing so with the omnipotence of God. Those privileges were:
To prepare her to be the Ark of the Covenant by saving her with the blood of the Cross, before the Cross, (remember God is outside of time restrictions) in the Immaculate Conception. This freed Mary from original sin and allowed her to live a sinless life which was critically important if she were to be the Ark of the New Covenant.

Because Mary was the pure and unblemished Ark of the New Covenant, she received the grace and gift of perpetual Chastity (as so did Joseph her husband) that she would remain pure not only until the birth of Jesus but forever in accord with the divine principle that the sacred shall remain sacred and not ever used for profane purposes

Because of the divine principle of the sacred not only never used for profane purposes but also never allowed to corrupt Mary was granted the privilege of the Assumption in which God did not allow Mary's body to corrupt when she came to the end of her life here on earth, but assumed her body and soul into heaven. If we had the capacity to do it, would not each of us do this for our mother? keep her from decay, but bring her directly into heaven? if we had the power? Well Jesus has the power.
Thus the Catholic Church salutes and honors the woman who is blessed above all women, who will be honored by all generations forever with these words called the Hail Mary (traditional wording):
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A beautiful prayer right out of the text of the King James Version. I make this point for our Protestant friends:
~~Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee~~
Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:28) Note: thou art highly favored is really a bad translation. The full of grace is a better translation. And it is interesting to note that the angel calls Mary this as if that is her name -- full of grace. She is FULL of grace (100%) which gives implication to the sacred nature of her being set-aside to be the Ark of the New Covenant. She was spotless and unblemished. Virginal and without the spot of sin. FULL of grace which can only happen when one has been totally cleansed of sin. Mary was so cleansed at conception as a special and singular favor to her from a loving God and for preparation of her destiny as the Ark.
~~Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.~~
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Luke 1:42) The rest of the Hail Mary is a petition to Mary to pray for us.
A wonderful and BIBLICAL prayer that is a recognition of the singular grace and sacredness that was granted to Mary by God.
Although the Church did not make a declaration of these characteristics of Mary until later, much later. These doctrines were taught from the the earliest times.
We have extant manuscripts that teach about Mary going all the way back. And of course, the teachings go farther back than these manuscripts since the sermons and writings these manuscripts contain deal with the subject as an already well accepted idea.
For example, the idea of the Mother of God was mentioned as early as 107AD in the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch; Mary's perpetual virginity was discussed as early as 213AD by Tertullian; and her Immaculate Conception is referred to in the Nisibene Hymns of St. Ephraim in the 370AD. Now remember, these are the earliest dates that we have from extant manuscripts. The teachings are older than these manuscripts. Thus we can see that these concepts and ideas come from the earliest times in Church history. They are NOT medieval or modern inventions of the Catholic Church.
Why did the Church not proclaim the Immaculate Conception until the 1850's? Well, like all teachings, there is no reason to proclaim what everyone commonly accepts as true. Proclamations are made only when disputes arise. In other words, if theologians are arguing over a point of dogma, the Supreme Court has to step in and settle the issue once and for all. If the issue is not under controversy there is no reason for the Supreme Court to act. The Supreme Court only acts to settle a dispute or to make more clearly a statement of dogma to allay misunderstanding. (the Supreme Court is the Pope and/or the Magisterium in union with the Pope). The issue of the Immaculate Conception was commonly accepted and it wasn't until the 1850's when the issue was under question, that the Pope stepped in to settle the issue once and for all time.
The same goes for all other dogmas of the Church. The Protestants who claim the Church invents these dogmas when they are proclaimed generally refuse to understand that such dogmas which have existed since the beginning are only being formally defined in a proclamation, not invented by that proclamation. The proclamations are merely making clear a definition to a belief already held since the beginning.
I have given more than you asked for, I suppose, but perhaps this greater context will make the issue more clear.

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