QUESTION 29: OF THE ESPOUSALS OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
We now consider the espousals of God's Mother: concerning which two
points arise for inquiry:
(1) Whether Christ should have been born of an espoused virgin?
(2) Whether there was true marriage between our Lord's Mother and Joseph?
Article 1: Whether Christ should have been born of an espoused virgin?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ should not have been born of an
espoused virgin. For espousals are ordered to carnal intercourse. But our
Lord's Mother never wished to have carnal intercourse with her husband;
because this would be derogatory to the virginity of her mind. Therefore
she should not have been espoused.
Objection 2: Further, that Christ was born of a virgin was miraculous, whence
Augustine says (Ep. ad Volus. cxxxvii): "This same power of God brought
forth the infant's limbs out of the virginal womb of His inviolate
Mother, by which in the vigor of manhood He passed through the closed
doors. If we are told why this happened, it will cease to be wonderful;
if another instance be alleged, it will no longer be unique." But
miracles that are wrought in confirmation of the Faith should be
manifest. Since, therefore, by her Espousals this miracle would be less
evident, it seems that it was unfitting that Christ should be born of an
Objection 3: Further, the martyr Ignatius, as Jerome says on Mt. 1:18, gives as a reason of the espousals of the Mother of God, "that the manner of His Birth might be hidden from the devil, who would think Him to be begotten not of a virgin but of a wife." But this seems to be no reason at all. First, because by his natural cunning he knows whatever takes place in bodies. Secondly, because later on the demons, through many evident signs, knew Christ after a fashion: whence it is written (Mk. 1:23,24): "A man with an unclean spirit . . . cried out, saying: What have we to do with Thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Art Thou come to destroy us? I know . . . Thou art the Holy one of God." Therefore it does not seem fitting that the Mother of God should have been espoused.
Objection 4: Further, Jerome gives as another reason, "lest the Mother of God
should be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress." But this reason seems to
have no weight, for if she were not espoused, she could not be condemned
for adultery. Therefore it does not seem reasonable that Christ should be
born of an espoused virgin.
I answer that, It was fitting that Christ should be born of an espoused
virgin; first, for His own sake; secondly, for His Mother's sake;
thirdly, for our sake. For the sake of Christ Himself, for four reasons.
First, lest He should be rejected by unbelievers as illegitimate:
wherefore Ambrose says on Lk. 1:26,27: "How could we blame Herod or the
Jews if they seem to persecute one who was born of adultery?"
Secondly, in order that in the customary way His genealogy might be
traced through the male line. Thus Ambrose says on Lk. 3:23: "He Who came
into the world, according to the custom of the world had to be enrolled
Now for this purpose, it is the men that are required, because they
represent the family in the senate and other courts. The custom of the
Scriptures, too, shows that the ancestry of the men is always traced out."
Thirdly, for the safety of the new-born Child: lest the devil should
plot serious hurt against Him. Hence Ignatius says that she was espoused
"that the manner of His Birth might be hidden from the devil."
Fourthly, that He might be fostered by Joseph: who is therefore called
His "father," as bread-winner.
It was also fitting for the sake of the Virgin. First, because thus she
was rendered exempt from punishment; that is, "lest she should be stoned
by the Jews as an adulteress," as Jerome says.
Secondly, that thus she might be safeguarded from ill fame. Whence
Ambrose says on Lk. 1:26,27: "She was espoused lest she be wounded by the
ill-fame of violated virginity, in whom the pregnant womb would betoken
Thirdly, that, as Jerome says, Joseph might administer to her wants.
This was fitting, again, for our sake. First, because Joseph is thus a
witness to Christ's being born of a virgin. Wherefore Ambrose says: "Her
husband is the more trustworthy witness of her purity, in that he would
deplore the dishonor, and avenge the disgrace, were it not that he
acknowledged the mystery."
Secondly, because thereby the very words of the Virgin are rendered more
credible by which she asserted her virginity. Thus Ambrose says: "Belief
in Mary's words is strengthened, the motive for a lie is removed. If she
had not been espoused when pregnant, she would seem to have wished to
hide her sin by a lie: being espoused, she had no motive for lying, since
a woman's pregnancy is the reward of marriage and gives grace to the
nuptial bond." These two reasons add strength to our faith.
Thirdly, that all excuse be removed from those virgins who, through want
of caution, fall into dishonor. Hence Ambrose says: "It was not becoming
that virgins should expose themselves to evil report, and cover
themselves with the excuse that the Mother of the Lord had also been
oppressed by ill-fame."
Fourthly, because by this the universal Church is typified, which is a
virgin and yet is espoused to one Man, Christ, as Augustine says (De
Sanct. Virg. xii).
A fifth reason may be added: since the Mother of the Lord being both
espoused and a virgin, both virginity and wedlock are honored in her
person, in contradiction to those heretics who disparaged one or the
Reply to Objection 1: We must believe that the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God,
desired, from an intimate inspiration of the Holy Ghost, to be espoused,
being confident that by the help of God she would never come to have
carnal intercourse: yet she left this to God's discretion. Wherefore she
suffered nothing in detriment to her virginity.
Reply to Objection 2: As Ambrose says on Lk. 1:26: "Our Lord preferred that men
should doubt of His origin rather than of His Mother's purity. For he
knew the delicacy of virgin modesty, and how easily the fair name of
chastity is disparaged: nor did He choose that our faith in His Birth
should be strengthened in detriment to His Mother." We must observe,
however, that some miracles wrought by God are the direct object of
faith; such are the miracles of the virginal Birth, the Resurrection of
our Lord, and the Sacrament of the Altar. Wherefore our Lord wished these
to be more hidden, that belief in them might have greater merit. Whereas
other miracles are for the strengthening of faith: and these it behooves
to be manifest.
Reply to Objection 3: As Augustine says (De Trin. iii), the devil can do many
things by his natural power which he is hindered by the Divine power from
doing. Thus it may be that by his natural power the devil could know that
the Mother of God knew not man, but was a virgin; yet was prevented by
God from knowing the manner of the Divine Birth. That afterwards the
devil after a fashion knew that He was the Son of God, makes no
difficulty: because then the time had already come for Christ to make
known His power against the devil, and to suffer persecution aroused by
him. But during His infancy it behooved the malice of the devil to be
withheld, lest he should persecute Him too severely: for Christ did not
wish to suffer such things then, nor to make His power known, but to show
Himself to be in all things like other infants. Hence Pope Leo (Serm. in
Epiph. iv) says that "the Magi found the Child Jesus small in body,
dependent on others, unable to speak, and in no way differing from the
generality of human infants." Ambrose, however, expounding Lk. 1:26,
seems to understand this of the devil's members. For, after giving the
above reason---namely, that the prince of the world might be
deceived---he continues thus: "Yet still more did He deceive the princes
of the world, since the evil disposition of the demons easily discovers
even hidden things: but those who spend their lives in worldly vanities
can have no acquaintance of Divine things."
Reply to Objection 4: The sentence of adulteresses according to the Law was that
they should be stoned, not only if they were already espoused or married,
but also if their maidenhood were still under the protection of the
paternal roof, until the day when they enter the married state. Thus it
is written (Dt. 22:20,21): "If . . . virginity be not found in the damsel
. . . the men of the city shall stone her to death, and she shall die;
because she hath done a wicked thing in Israel, to play the whore in her
It may also be said, according to some writers, that the Blessed Virgin
was of the family or kindred of Aaron, so that she was related to
Elizabeth, as we are told (Lk. 1:36). Now a virgin of the priestly tribe
was condemned to death for whoredom; for we read (Lev. 21:9): "If the
daughter of a priest be taken in whoredom, and dishonor the name of her
father, she shall be burnt with fire."
Lastly, some understand the passage of Jerome to refer to the throwing
of stones by ill-fame.
Article 2: Whether there was a true marriage between Mary and Joseph?
Objection 1: It would seem that there was no true marriage between Mary and
Joseph. For Jerome says against Helvidius that Joseph "was Mary's
guardian rather than her husband." But if this was a true marriage,
Joseph was truly her husband. Therefore there was no true marriage
between Mary and Joseph.
Objection 2: Further, on Mt. 1:16: "Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary,"
Jerome says: "When thou readest 'husband' suspect not a marriage; but
remember that Scripture is wont to speak of those who are betrothed as
husband and wife." But a true marriage is not effected by the betrothal,
but by the wedding. Therefore, there was no true marriage between the
Blessed Virgin and Joseph.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (Mt. 1:19): "Joseph, her husband, being a
just man, and not willing to take her away [*Douay: 'publicly to expose
her'], i.e. to take her to his home in order to cohabit with her, was
minded to put her away privately, i.e. to postpone the wedding," as
Remigius [*Cf. Catena Aurea in Matth.] expounds. Therefore, it seems
that, as the wedding was not yet solemnized, there was no true marriage:
especially since, after the marriage contract, no one can lawfully put
his wife away.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Consensu Evang. ii): "It cannot be
allowed that the evangelist thought that Joseph ought to sever his union
with Mary" (since he said that Joseph was Mary's husband) "on the ground
that in giving birth to Christ, she had not conceived of him, but
remained a virgin. For by this example the faithful are taught that if
after marriage they remain continent by mutual consent, their union is
still and is rightly called marriage, even without intercourse of the
I answer that, Marriage or wedlock is said to be true by reason of its
attaining its perfection. Now perfection of anything is twofold; first,
and second. The first perfection of a thing consists in its very form,
from which it receives its species; while the second perfection of a
thing consists in its operation, by which in some way a thing attains its
end. Now the form of matrimony consists in a certain inseparable union of
souls, by which husband and wife are pledged by a bond of mutual
affection that cannot be sundered. And the end of matrimony is the
begetting and upbringing of children: the first of which is attained by
conjugal intercourse; the second by the other duties of husband and wife,
by which they help one another in rearing their offspring.
Thus we may say, as to the first perfection, that the marriage of the
Virgin Mother of God and Joseph was absolutely true: because both
consented to the nuptial bond, but not expressly to the bond of the
flesh, save on the condition that it was pleasing to God. For this reason
the angel calls Mary the wife of Joseph, saying to him (Mt. 1:20): "Fear
not to take unto thee Mary thy wife": on which words Augustine says (De
Nup. et Concup. i): "She is called his wife from the first promise of her
espousals, whom he had not known nor ever was to know by carnal
But as to the second perfection which is attained by the marriage act,
if this be referred to carnal intercourse, by which children are
begotten; thus this marriage was not consummated. Wherefore Ambrose says
on Lk. 1:26,27: "Be not surprised that Scripture calls Mary a wife. The
fact of her marriage is declared, not to insinuate the loss of virginity,
but to witness to the reality of the union." Nevertheless, this marriage
had the second perfection, as to upbringing of the child. Thus Augustine
says (De Nup. et Concup. i): "All the nuptial blessings are fulfilled in
the marriage of Christ's parents, offspring, faith and sacrament. The
offspring we know to have been the Lord Jesus; faith, for there was no
adultery: sacrament, since there was no divorce. Carnal intercourse alone
there was none."
Reply to Objection 1: Jerome uses the term "husband" in reference to marriage
Reply to Objection 2: By marriage Jerome means the nuptial intercourse.
Reply to Objection 3: As Chrysostom says (Hom. i super Matth. [*Opus Imperfectum
among the supposititious works ascribed to St. Chrysostom]) the Blessed
Virgin was so espoused to Joseph that she dwelt in his home: "for just as
she who conceives in her husband's house is understood to have conceived
of him, so she who conceives elsewhere is suspect." Consequently
sufficient precaution would not have been taken to safeguard the fair
fame of the Blessed Virgin, if she had not the entry of her husband's
house. Wherefore the words, "not willing to take her away" are better
rendered as meaning, "not willing publicly to expose her," than
understood of taking her to his house. Hence the evangelist adds that "he
was minded to put her away privately." But although she had the entry of
Joseph's house by reason of her first promise of espousals, yet the time
had not yet come for the solemnizing of the wedding; for which reason
they had not yet consummated the marriage. Therefore, as Chrysostom says
(Hom. iv in Matth.): "The evangelist does not say, 'before she was taken
to the house of her husband,' because she was already in the house. For
it was the custom among the ancients for espoused maidens to enter
frequently the houses of them to whom they were betrothed." Therefore the
angel also said to Joseph: "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife";
that is: "Fear not to solemnize your marriage with her." Others, however,
say that she was not yet admitted to his house, but only betrothed to
him. But the first is more in keeping with the Gospel narrative.