It is a dogma of the Catholic faith that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not only a virgin when she conceived and bore Jesus but that she remained a virgin ever after. Most Protestant Christians today deny this – but do they know that many of their early leaders believed it?
Here are 5 examples of major Protestant leaders who rejected huge swaths of Catholic dogma, but – you may surprised to learn – defended the perpetual virginity of Mary:
1) Martin Luther
Martin Luther is usually considered to be the person who sparked the Protestant Reformation. He rejected core Catholic dogmas like the papacy, transubstantiation, and even parts of the traditional Bible. But he kept the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.
Here’s what he said about it in a sermon:
“Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. […] Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.” (Sermons on John)
2) John Calvin
John Calvin started what is now known as the Reformed theological tradition, which reject many key Catholic dogmas. Though he warned that those who take time to argue about it simply have an “extreme fondness of disputation,” he also argued that those who reject Mary’s perpetual virginity based on Scriptural passages that mention Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” show “excessive ignorance.”
3) Huldrych Zwingli
Huldrych Zwingli was a Swiss Reformer during the lifetime of Martin Luther. He not only rejected the authority of the Church, but, unlike Luther, actually went so far as to deny the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist altogether.
But on the topic of Mary’s perpetual virgin, he wrote:
“I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.” (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424)
4) Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during Henry VIII’s schism from Rome and thereafter and was a major figure in building Anglicanism. Yet he and other major Anglican leaders maintained the perpetual virginity of Mary “on the basis of ancient Christian authority.”
5) John Wesley
John Wesley’s teachings and ministry led to the worldwide Methodist movement. He strongly rejected Catholicism – but the perpetual virginity of Mary wasn’t one of the things he saw as problematic.
In his Letter to a Roman Catholic, he wrote:
“I believe that He [Jesus] was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.”