The gospel accounts understand the virginal conception of
Jesus as a divine work that surpasses all human understanding and
“That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit,”
said the angel to Joseph about Mary his fiancée.
The Church sees
here the fulfillment of the divine promise given through the
prophet Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”
People are sometimes troubled by the silence of St. Mark’s Gospel
and the New Testament Epistles about Jesus’ virginal conception. Some
might wonder if we were merely dealing with legends or theological
constructs not claiming to be history. To this we must respond: Faith in the
virginal conception of Jesus met with the lively opposition, mockery, or
incomprehension of non-believers, Jews and pagans alike;
so it could
hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology or by some adaptation
to the ideas of the age. The meaning of this event is accessible only to faith,
which understands in it the “connection of these mysteries with one
in the totality of Christ’s mysteries, from his Incarnation to his
Passover. St. Ignatius of Antioch already bears witness to this connection:
“Mary’s virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord’s death escaped the
notice of the prince of this world: these three mysteries worthy of procla-
mation were accomplished in God’s silence.”
The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the
Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the
act of giving birth to the Son of God made man.
In fact, Christ’s
birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sancti-
And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as
Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the
Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus.
The Church has always
understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin
Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another
Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other
They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament
7:14 in the LXX, quoted in
151 Cf. St. Justin,
99, 7: PG 6, 708-709; Origen,
1, 32, 69:
PG 11, 720-721;
4: DS 3016.
153 St. Ignatius of Antioch,
19, 1: AF II/2, 76-80; SCh 10, 88; cf.
154 Cf. DS 291; 294; 427; 442; 503; 571; 1880.
13:55; 28:1; cf.
13:8; 14:16; 29:15; etc.