Date: Tue, 21 May 2013 14:39:53 +0200
- Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics
Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 3) Perpetual Virginity
- John Calvin's views on Mary entry. I didn't get far into the entry before I came across a few facts that appeared odd. I'm going to work through the entry, time allowing. Previous entries are as follows:
Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 1)
Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 2)
My guess is that this is someone's term paper, and they decided to post it on Wikipedia. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but in this instance it serves as reminder to be careful with the information found on Wikipedia. Rather than being an informative source of knowledge on Calvin, the entry serves as a reminder to check facts.
Here's another odd fact from the Wiki entry:
In the Genevan Catechism, Calvin writes of Mary that she gave birth to Jesus through the Holy Spirit without the participation of any man, and hence he held her to be a virgin during her pregnancy and rejects the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin, citing flexibility in the terms used. Likewise, he argues that in Matthew 1:25 ("[Joseph] knew her [Mary] not till she had brought forth her firstborn son") the term "firstborn" and the conjunction "till" certainly contradict the doctrine of perpetual virginity.
FootnotesThe Genevan Catechism appears to say something different than Mary "gave birth to Jesus through the Holy Spirit without the participation of any man, and hence he held her to be a virgin during her pregnancy and rejects the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin, citing flexibility in the terms used." I utilized a 1538 version. Perhaps the author of the Wiki article had a later revision?
 Calvin. "Commentary on Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3". Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 2. Retrieved 2009-01-07. "The word brothers, we have formerly mentioned, is employed, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, to denote any relatives whatever; and, accordingly, Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s brothers are sometimes mentioned."
 Calvin. "Commentary on Matthew 1:25". Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 1. Retrieved 2009-01-07. "Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation."
The Catechism states:
He was born of the Virgin Mary that he might be recognized as the true son of Abraham and David, who had been promised in the Law and the Prophets; as the true man, like us in all things, save only sin, who having been tried by all our infirmities learned to bear with them. Yet that same one was conceived in the Virgin's womb by the wonderful and ineffable (to us) power of the Holy Spirit, that he might not be fouled by any physical corruption, but might be born sanctified with the highest purity.The Catechism mentions the work of the Holy Spirit, but it doesn't explicitly say "without the participation of any man" nor does it explicitly say "he held her to be a virgin during her pregnancy." Certainly these statements are not contradictory to that expressed in the Catechism. It appears though whoever wrote this entry had some of Calvin's other comments in mind. This is best shown that in the Catechism, Calvin does not comment on his rejection of "the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin, citing flexibility in the terms used." Rather, the Wiki entry seems to be getting this from that cited in footnote #4, which is Calvin's comment on Matthew 13:55.
The notion that Calvin rejected the perpetual virginity of Mary "citing flexibility in the terms used" isn't quite correct. If one compares Calvin's comments on Matthew 13:55 with those on Matthew 1:25, Calvin's position is that the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards to Mary. Calvin calls it “folly” at one point, when describing those who wish to make a text say more than it does. Those who would make a necessary inference where the Gospel writer has only made a possible inference engage in folly (according to Calvin). In other words, he doesn't conclude if she was a perpetual virgin or not.
Similarly, the Wiki article states, "Likewise, he argues that in Matthew 1:25 ('[Joseph] knew her [Mary] not till she had brought forth her firstborn son') the term 'firstborn' and the conjunction 'till' certainly contradict the doctrine of perpetual virginity," citing Calvin's comment on Matthew 1:25. Calvin's comment, "It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time" could be construed to deny the perpetual virginity of Mary, but, he clarifies his comment by saying that the Scriptures don't give us information as to what happened afterward. I certainly would enjoy a clear statement from Calvin rejecting perpetual virginity, but Calvin's comment here certainly isn't it.
What's also odd about the Wiki entry is that earlier it states, "Calvin shows a decidedly positive view of Mary, and he did not hold to a number of the Protestant views on her that became common after the Reformation." One would think that the author of this Wiki entry would have argued that Calvin held to the perpetual virginity of Mary (as many Roman Catholics do, citing the same evidence). The entry then presents some interesting comments from Calvin:
At the same time, Calvin argues that the claims that Mary took a vow of perpetual virginity in Luke 1:34 ("How shall this be, since I know not a man?") is "unfounded and altogether absurd," and moreover he says that, had she taken such a vow, "[s]he would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage...." Although Algermissen suggests that Calvin believed that Mary in this verse looked into the future and recognized, that in light of this special grace, any contact with a man would be excluded for her, this interpretation takes an objection Calvin is refuting in his commentary and makes it his own position.
6) Calvin. "Commentary on Luke 1:34". Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke 1. Retrieved 2009-01-07. "The conjecture which some have drawn from these words ['How shall this be, since I know not a man?'], that she had formed a vow of perpetual virginity, is unfounded and altogether absurd. She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage; which could not have been done without mockery of God. Although the Papists have exercised barbarous tyranny on this subject, yet they have never proceeded so far as to allow the wife to form a vow of continence at her own pleasure. Besides, it is an idle and unfounded supposition that a monastic life existed among the Jews."
Here again with these comments, one would be strongly tempted to say Calvin denied the perpetual virginity of Mary. One could probably read between the lines and conclude this. However, Calvin still doesn't come right out and say it. In fact, if one reads the context of that cited in footnote #8, it becomes apparent that the subject of perpetual virginity isn't to be considered, one way or the other, in Luke 1:34:7)Algermissen 6418) Calvin. "Commentary on Luke 1:34". Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke 1. Retrieved 2009-01-07. "We must reply, however, to another objection, that the virgin refers to the future, and so declares that she will have no intercourse with a man."
We must reply, however, to another objection, that the virgin refers to the future, and so declares that she will have no intercourse with a man. The probable and simple explanation is, that the greatness or rather majesty of the subject made so powerful an impression on the virgin, that all her senses were bound and locked up in astonishment. When she is informed that the Son of God will be born, she imagines something unusual, and for that reason leaves conjugal intercourse out of view. Hence she breaks out in amazement, How shall this be? And so God graciously forgives her, and replies kindly and gently by the angel, because, in a devout and serious manner, and with admiration of a divine work, she had inquired how that would be, which, she was convinced, went beyond the common and ordinary course of nature. In a word, this question was not so contrary to faith, because it arose rather from admiration than from distrust.One thing is quite certain from Calvin's comments on Mary and perpetual virginity. Those Roman apologists that think Calvin held to the perpetual virginity of Mary haven't read these comments from Calvin closely. One typical argument is the appeal to authority: that certain Calvin scholars say Calvin believed in Mary's perpetual virginity. Certainly the opinions of scholars are helpful, but this appears to me to be the same sort of situation that occurred when Rome's defenders try to argue Luther had a lifelong commitment to the immaculate conception. The evidence that the scholars use must be evaluated.