The Siblings of Christ?

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2013/08/09 at 12:00 AM

Converts to Catholicism from Protestantism often experience doctrinal problems with the role of Mary as the Mother of God and the devotion shown to her by the Catholic Church. Part of the reason is that Mary has very little status in the Protestant Church beyond the acknowledgement of her maternity. When Luther started the Protestant religion, he was reacting to the abuses in the Catholic Church at that time. What he failed to understand is that moral abuses cannot be corrected by doctrinal deviations. Thus, he rejected, among other traditional beliefs, the doctrine of the saints. Protestantism today has almost no interest in saints, preferring to put all their emphasis on Christ and the Father. This is not wrong in itself, but it is incomplete. Modern Protestant Sunday practice, with few exceptions, consists of a song and a sermon with emphasis on Christ and little else.

In the matter of Mary, she is just about invisible and unknown except as a typical Jewish woman who had one unusual experience (the birth of Christ) and then went on to make a family with her husband, Joseph. Thus, Protestantism has taught that Mary had other children which meant that Christ had siblings. While the Protestant emphasis has been on the other children of Mary, they failed to see that, if there were other children, there would also be presumably grandchildren and descendants. There is no evidence or even mention of this natural progression in the Protestant world.

The Catholic Church teaches that Mary did not have other children, and that the Biblical word the Protestants translate as “brothers” can be translated as “cousins” just as accurately. “Brother” is a frequently used religious term of address in both the Protestant and Catholic Churches, suggesting in no way genetic family relationships. Baptists often address one another as “brother” or “sister”, and Catholics have a type of religious group known as “brothers”. Priests often address their congregations as “brothers and sisters”. No one understands the words literally.

If Mary and Joseph did have children, they would not be siblings of Christ because Joseph was not the real father of Christ; they would only be half-siblings.

Can we really imagine a house full of children, one of them Divine God Himself, and not be a source of some kind of turmoil? A sinless child among normal children? It would not be a usual household at all.

The Bible is very generous with names of significant persons. It seems reasonable that siblings of Christ would be named as were Mary and Joseph. Lesser personages, than those siblings would have been, were named: the Apostles, Jairus, Pilate, Simon of Cyrene. Why not the literal “brothers” of Christ?

At the time of the Crucifixion, Our Lord designated St. John as the guardian of His Mother. It would have been more normal and reasonable for one of the siblings to have taken that role. Evidently there were no other children to assume that role.

Mary and Joseph were legally married, and there was nothing in law or nature to prevent them from having children. That’s what everyone did normally. But perhaps, since they both had experienced extraordinary events with the Divine, it would seem anti-climactic to produce human children after being so favored by God. They would have known that normal children would create unusual problems for all concerned because normal children would be sinners in a family of three persons unusually close to God. (In fact, one was God, and the other was Mary, who according to the Catholic doctrine, did not have the taint of Original Sin.) Mary and Joseph knew that they were unusually privileged people, and it would be reasonable, understanding that gift, that they knew life for them was not be lived in the ordinary human way. Thus, it can be inferred that after a divine child was born to Mary, a human child would not seem appropriate. Contemporary culture cannot fathom that a couple would choose not to avail themselves of marital rights; therefore, they must have.

In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha of Bethany, there is a lesson to be drawn that experiencing divinity is better than not experiencing it, and that mundane household chores, good in themselves, fade away in comparison to contemplation of the divine. Martha was not told that she was doing anything wrong, but only inferior to what Mary had chosen. Intimacy with God changes a person from merely human to a special relationship with God. Mary of Bethany deemed it better to be with Christ than to do chores, and Christ confirmed her choice. At the same time, he undoubtedly ate the meal that Martha had prepared. So also, Mary, the Mother of Christ, had this special relationship and could not be content with anything lesser.

Consider all the men and women saints of the Catholic Church who had direct, personal and visual interaction with God or His Mother: St. Margaret Mary (devotion to the Sacred Heart), St. Faustina Kowalska (devotion to the Divine Mercy), St. Bernadette (of Lourdes), Sr. Lucia of Fatima, St. Catherine of Siena, St.Teresa of Avila, and many more whose lives were intimately involved with God and the things of God. Once they had experienced God, their lives never went back to “normal” and they devoted their whole life to things divine, the better choice. So, too, it can be implied ever more strongly that Mary of Nazareth would respond in an even stronger way by contemplating God for all of her days.

But does it really make any difference? The Catholics say Mary was a perpetual Virgin, and the Protestants claim she had a normal family life with other children. Modern culture would say, “You believe what you want, and I’ll believe what I want. Everybody’s happy.” That sounds so generous and tolerant, but there is a contradiction involved, and that means one side is wrong. To be willing to live on the wrong side is not a sign of the tolerance our culture so applauds, but a sign of weak thinking or the unwillingness to think.

It does matter, because the things of God MUST be dealt with as He wants them dealt with, not according to the whims of humans. There is an answer.

Christ promised his Church divine protection and guidance until the end of time. There is no way whatsoever to explain the continued existence of the Catholic Church, in spite of all her problems, both internal and external, for 2000 years except by divine protection. The Protestant Church lacks this protection and guidance, and that is why there are 30,000+ sects within Protestantism while there are no doctrinal divisions in the Catholic Church. (This not to imply that the Catholic Church is full of saints … far from it.) The Church has always believed that Mary was a perpetual Virgin. If the Holy Spirit guides the Church, the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity must be true because the Holy Spirit does not make mistakes.

We can be assured that Mary of Nazareth is everything the Church says she is. Therefore, she is worthy of the great devotion shown to her because she is a truly unique woman; veneration (not worship) of her is not uncalled for, but raises poor souls to a higher degree of piety. Most men respect their mothers, and most men favor anyone else who respects them. I doubt if Christ frowns upon the devotion shown to His mother, but He may frown on the lack of it in the Protestant Church.

I’ll grant that I have made inferences based on the Bible narrative of the New Testament. But inferences are not false if they are based on reasonable evidence. The evidence for Mary’s other children is slim to none beyond the dubious translation of a word.

We should embrace devotion to Mary because, as the story of Cana shows, Christ does what His Mothers asks … and she is the holiest of all humans who ever existed. If she is on our side, we are in good hands.

The siblings of Christ? The preponderance of evidence indicates there were none.

Oh, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.


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