Our Blessed Mother & The Saints


What the Bible Says About Mary's Virginity

by Mark Bonocore


St. Jerome's argument that "brother" is merely a Jewish tribal reference happens to be based in a Scriptural observation that totally destroys the Epiphanian "James bar-Joseph" theory once and for all.  And that observation is simply that James "the brother of the Lord" had a different mother than Jesus, and this different mother was still alive at the time of the Crucifixion! 

This fact can be seen most clearly by comparing Matt 13:55 and Mark 6:3 (passages which list the names of Jesus' "brothers") with Matt 27:56 and Mark 15:40 (where the mother of two of the listed "brothers," James and Joseph [Jose], is mentioned with the "Joseph" vs. "Jose" variant between Matthew and Mark being preserved in both places).   Thus, the ONLY way for James to have been the biological son of Joseph is if a) Joseph divorced his first wife or b) if Joseph practiced polygamy - neither of which are part of Tradition, and neither of which fit with the Scriptural character of Joseph.

Rather, the Greco-Syrian, "Epiphanian" tradition (also to be found in the Protoevangelium of James), which presents Joseph as a widower with grown children at the time of his marriage to the Blessed Virgin, is rooted in an easy-to-understand pastoral solution that was commonly disseminated by the bishops and fathers of the Eastern Church to defend the Tradition of Mary's perpetual virginity and to explain the reference to "brothers" in Scripture.   Given the cultural animosity between Gentile Christians and their Jewish enemies throughout the first several centuries of Church history, in which Jewish culture and the "Jewishness" of various themes in Scripture were significantly downplayed (Christianity was, after all, a "Gentile" religion ), it is not surprising that the earliest fathers would opt for a straightforward pastoral explanation which did not depend upon understanding the tribal dynamics of Jewish culture, and which their Gentile flocks could easily understand (i.e., "the brothers mentioned are Joseph's kids").    St. Jerome, however, who had close associations with Jews (the very Jews who helped him translate the OT), and who was not only a first-hand witness of how Jews thought and lived, but who also approached the New Testament Scripture with a much more rational, Western mentality, and thus knew that the "Joseph the widower" scenario could not be reconciled with the origins of James, gave the Church its present understanding which is certainly NOT rooted in any alleged dualism on Jerome's part, but in a better and more comprehensive understanding of the Scriptures; and one that is free from the anti-Jewish cultural bigotry that prevented the earliest Church fathers from grasping what the word "brothers" really meant.  

What is more, te "Mary" who appears at the Cross/Tomb accounts in the Synoptics, and who is unquestionably the mother of Jesus' "brothers" James and Joseph [Jose], is most likely the same Mary who appears in John 19:27, where she is called the "wife of Clopas" and is also apparently identified as "His mother's sister."   Now, let us think about this.  Two sisters, both named "Mary"?   Not very likely.   Yet, if we take the word "adelphe" here as a translation of the Jewish tribal term, and assume that Mary the wife of Clopas (and mother of James) and Mary the mother of Jesus are merely close relatives, yet not biological siblings, then it makes perfect sense that James would also be called Jesus' "brother."    However, assuming that this woman in John 19 is indeed the same Mary from the Synoptics, and thus the mother of James, what we would then have to conclude is that this Mary was married to Joseph, had James (and Jose and presumably a whole slew of other kids by him), and then divorced Joseph and married Clopas, allowing Joseph to marry the Blessed Virgin.   Or, we must conclude that Joseph was married to two women named Mary, both of them "sisters," like Leah and Rachel.   But, again, we have no Scriptural reference or tradition for any of this. And there is also the little matter of Scripture referring to James as "the younger James" (Mark 15:40), thus implying that he was younger (NOT older) than Jesus; and certainly younger than James Bar-Zebedee, who was evidently about the same age as Jesus.  

Thus, all-in-all, Jerome's solution is the best and the one most consistent with Scripture.   While the "Epiphanian" witness of the early Greco-Syrian fathers is useful in that it illustrates their desire to protect the belief in Mary's perpetual virginity as a true and universal Tradition, it must be admitted that their explanation was merely a pastoral one, and not something that can be reconciled with the Sacred Text.  

Here is solid Scriptural proof that Mary always remained a virgin, and that it was the intention of Joseph and Mary to live chastely with one another.

First of all, in Luke 1:26, we are told: 

"In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee
called Nazareth, TO A VIRGIN BETROTHED TO A MAN named Joseph, of the
HOUSE OF DAVID, and the VIRGIN'S name was Mary." 

So, what does this tell us?  Simply this:   Mary is a virgin; and Mary is soon to be married to Joseph --a descended of David. 

In Luke 1:31-33, Gabriel gives Mary the big news.  He tells her: 

"Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name
Him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the
Lord God will give Him the throne of DAVID HIS FATHER, and He will rule
over the house of Jacob forever ..."  

How does Mary respond to this?   Remember, here is a young girl who is about to marry a man from the HOUSE OF DAVID!!!   But, what does she say in response? It says this:

Luke 1:34:  "But Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be since I do not know man?' "

Why would Mary have to ask such a question if she and Joseph intended to live a normal married life?   Mary knows how babies come about, so why ask the question?

Here's an angel coming to her and telling her that she's going to give birth to a son; and that He is going to succeeded to the throne of "David his father."   Shouldn't she have assumed that her baby's birth would come about in the usual way?  She was about to get married, for goodness sake!  So, why did she bother to ask? 

Because Joseph was a chaste individual, who lived that way for the Kingdom of God! 

And THAT, my friend, is the only explanation for Mary's question to Gabriel.  And, indeed, in Matthew 1:19, Joseph is described as a "righteous man" --a devout Jew.  In the same chapter, we are also told how Mary is betrothed to Joseph, but she does not live with him. And the angel must tell Joseph in a dream:

"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home."  (Matthew 1:20). 

So, even though she was just Joseph's "betrothed," she was already considered to be his "wife."  That is, she was his legal wife --"his virgin," as Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, where we read:

"If anyone thinks HE is behaving improperly toward HIS virgin, and if a
critical moment has come, and so it has to be, let HIM do as he
wishes.  HE is committing no sin; let them get married.   The one who
stands firm in HIS RESOLVE, however, who is not under compulsion,
but has POWER OVER HIS OWN WILL, and has made up HIS mind to
KEEP HIS VIRGIN, will be doing well.  So then, the ONE who marries HIS
virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better." 

Now, many have tried to say that the "he" above refers to the virgin's father.  And some versions of the Bible even translate the Greek word "virgin" here as "daughter," which all scholars (both Protestant and Catholic) admit is an indefensible error. 

So, who is the "he" above?  It can only be the husband of the virgin. Notice how it is always "his virgin" (stated 3 times).   So, "the virgin" is clearly his legal wife.  Notice also how this man must "not be under compulsion" and how he may "stand firm in his resolve" IF he has "made up his mind" and has "power over his own will."   These are clearly references to self-embraced chastity. 

So, what "resolve" do you think Paul is talking about?  He is clearly referring to an established practice of the day --a practice in which very saintly men set aside their marital rights so as to devote themselves completely to prayer and to the service of God's Kingdom.   And the Lord Himself suggests this in Matthew 19:12:

"Some are incapable of marriage because they are born so; some because they
were made so by others; and some because they have renounced marriage for
the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven
.  Whoever CAN accept this OUGHT TO
accept it." 

So, was Jesus "anti-sex" or "anti-marriage"?   Of course not!   Rather, He points to a higher calling.   However, notice how the Lord uses the word "marriage" when He really means sexual intercourse (i.e., the consummation of the marriage).  He says how some cannot "marry" (i.e., consummate a marriage) because they are born impotent; some because they were made into eunuchs (to serve in harems, etc.); and some renounce "marriage" (i.e., sexual relations) for the sake of God's Kingdom. 

Here, we must notice also that Jesus speaks of this as if it is ALREADY GOING ON  ....which it WAS!   Many, many pious Jews had embraced lives of chastity because they were waiting for the Kingdom of God to be established --a Kingdom which Jesus describes in Matt 22:30, saying how:

"At the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in Heaven." 

So, this was the stuation with some Jews at the time.  And, guess what?   Mary and Joseph were among them, as we see clearly from Luke 1: 

So, when Mary says:  "How can this be since I do not know man?", this must be understood in the same sense as:  "Since I do not dance" or "Since I do not swim" -- a reference to her personal character, rather than merely the present situation. 

Otherwise, you MUST conclude that Mary was a complete and total idiot, who could not put two & two together, so as to assume that she would conceive this baby with her husband in the normal way.   So, those are your choices. Either Mary had consecrated herself as a virgin (along with Joseph), or she was really, REALLY dumb.  :-)  Which, of course, flies in the face of her acceptance of God's will in Luke 1:38; as well as her comprehensive grasp of salvation history displayed in Luke 1:46-55.   So, which is it to be? 

As for Mary consecrating herself as a virgin, this practice can be see also in 1 Corinth 7. 

First of all, we have Paul giving his teaching from the husband's point of view in verses 36-38 (which we dealt with above).   In this, he begins his teaching by addressing a potential problem: 

"If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, and
if a critical moment has come, and so it has to be, let him
do as he wishes.  He is committing no sin; let them get married."  

In this, we see that a husband, who has chosen to live a chaste life with his virgin, may feel that his committment is too difficult for his virgin wife. She may want children to comfort her in her old age, etc.  She may merely want affection, etc.   So, Paul says that there's no sin if they get married. However, he then says:    

The one who stands firm in his resolve, however, who is not under
compulsion
, but has power over his own will, and has made up his mind to
keep his virgin, will be doing well.  So then, the one who marries his
virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better."

So, Paul suggests how living chastely is the higher way --IF the man is A) under no compulsion (from a wife who wants kids, etc.) and B) has control over his own sexual desires so as to live chastely. 

Now, with this said, Paul turns to the wife's point of view in verses 39-40: 

"A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives.  But, IF HER
HUSBAND DIES, she is FREE to MARRY whomever SHE wishes, provided that it be
in the Lord.  She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she REMAINS AS
SHE IS, and I think I have the Spirit of God [on this]." 

So, what's Paul saying here?   Just this:  Having begun with the problem:  'a chaste husband behaving improperly toward his virgin wife' (i.e., not giving her children and a normal life), Paul then tells the wife that she is "bound to her husband as long as he lives."   TRANSLATION:  Even though her husband seeks to live a chaste life, she is still bound to him.  She must care for him and love him as her husband, whether he wishes to give her children or not. 

BUT, Paul continues, IF her husband should die, she is FREE to marry whomever she wishes, so as to live the normal life she wants (with children, etc.).   THAT is what Paul is teaching. 

However, (in verse 40) he goes on to say: 

"She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she REMAINS AS SHE IS ..."

That is, if she REMAINS a virgin.   ...And this was the type of life Mary had chosen. 

Thus, when she says to the angel:  "How can this be since I do not know man?," Mary is confused because she had dedicated her virginity to God, and now it seemed as if God was rejecting her dedication.   Yet, God was not rejecting it.  Rather, He was bringing Fruit out of it.  And thus, Gabriel tells her: 

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will
overshadow you.  Therefore, the Child to be born will be called HOLY,
the Son of God."  (Luke 1:35). 

So, Gabriel is clear.  The Child's conception will be HOLY.  It will be in accord with her vow of virginity, not outside of it. 

Also, for anyone familiar with 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, the language above should be very familiar.  When Gabriel speaks of Mary being "overshadowed" by the Most High, that is a CLEAR reference to the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant, which was also "overshadowed" by the Spirit of God.   So, what's he saying?   He's saying that Mary is the NEW Ark of the Covenant --a sacred vessel to contain the Incarnate Word of God, just as the Ark contained the 10 Commandments. 

And, if Mary was such an Ark; and if Joseph was a "righteous man" (Matthew 1:19), how could a devout and righteous Jew like Joseph use the new Ark of the Covenant for an ordinary purpose?   You will recall the man in 2 Samuel who touched the Ark as it was being carried in procession and was struck dead, right?   Well, a righteous Jew like Joseph would have known what his wife was.  Did he love her?  Most certainly.  Yet, a 1st Century Jew, who KNEW that his foster Child was God Incarnate would not use the vessel which God used to bring Him into the world for an ordinary use.  The womb of Mary, which was a temple of the Most High, could not be used to bear the chidren of Joseph.  And, if you think otherwise, you do not understand 1st Century Jews or their understanding of the sacred. 

And, indeed, we have all the Church fathers supporting this belief: 

Origen

"For if Mary, as those who declare with sound mind extol her, had no
other son but Jesus, yet Jesus says to His mother, 'Woman, behold thy son,'
and not 'Behold you have this son also,' then He virtually says to her, 'Lo,
this is Jesus whom thou didst bear.'  It is not the case that everyone who is
perfect lives himself no longer, but Christ lives in him, and if Christ lives
in him, then it is said of him to Mary: 'Behold, thy son Christ.' "  ---
Origin, Commentary on John, 1:6 (232 A.D.)

St. Athanasius

"Therefore, let those who deny that the Son is from the Father by nature and
proper to His Essence deny also that He took true human flesh from Mary
Ever-Virgin ..."  --- St. Athanasius, Orations against the Arians II:70
(A.D. 362). 

St. John Chrysostom

" 'And when he had taken her, he knew her not, until she had brought forth
her first-born Son.'  He hath here used the word 'until,' not that you should
suspect that afterwards he did know her, but to inform you that before the
Birth, the Virgin was wholly untouched by man.  But, why then, it may be
said, does he use the word 'until'?  Because it is usual in Scripture often
to do this, and to use this expression without reference to limited times.
For so, with respect to the ark likewise it is said, 'the raven returned not
until the earth was dried up.'  And yet it did not return even after that
time.  And when speaking also of God, the Scripture says, 'From age until age
Thou art,' not as if fixing limits in this case.  ...Thus, what it was
necessary for you to learn of Him, He Himself has said: that the Virgin was
untouched by man until the Birth, but that which both was seen to be a
consequence of the former statement, and was acknowledged, this in its turn
He leaves for thee to perceive; namely, that not even after this, she having
to become a mother, and having been counted worthy of a new sort of travail,
and a child-bearing so strange, could that righteous man ever have endured to
know her.  For if he had know her, and had kept her in the place of a wife,
how is it that our Lord commits her, as unprotected, having no one, to His
disciple, and commands him to take her into his home?  How then, one may say,
are James and the others called His brethren?  In the same kind of way that
Joseph himself was supposed to be husband of Mary.  For many were the veils
provided, that the birth, being such as it was, be for a time screened.
Wherefore, even John so called them, saying, 'For neither did His brethren
believe in Him.' "  ---St. John Chrysostom, On the Gospel of Matthew V:5 (370
A.D.).  

St. Gregory of Nyssa

"Just as, in the age of Mary the Mother of God, he (satan) who reigned from
Adam to her time found, when he came to her and dashed his forces against the
fruit of her virginity as against a rock, that he was shattered to pieces
upon her, so in every soul which passess through life in the flesh under the
protection of virginity, the strength of death is in a manner broken and
annulled, for he does not find the places upon he may fix his sting."  --St.
Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity 13 (371 A.D.) 

St. Epiphanius

"The Son of God ...was born perfectly of the holy ever-virgin Mary by the
Holy Spirit." --St. Epiphanius, The Well-Anchored Man, 120 (A.D. 374)

St. Jerome

"But as we do not deny what is written, so we reject what is not written.  We
believe that God was born of a Virgin because we read it.  That Mary was
married (i.e., consummated her marriage) after she brought forth we do not
believe, because we do not read it.  Nor do we say this to condemn marriage,
for virginity itself is the fruit of marriage; but because when we are
dealing with saints we must not judge rashly.  If we adopt possibility as the
standard of judgement, we might maintain that Joseph had several wives,
because Abraham had, and so had Jacob, and that the Lord's brothers were the
issue of those wives, an invention which some hold with rashness which
springs from audacity not from piety.  You say that Mary did not continue a
Virgin.  I say still more, that Joseph himself on account of Mary was a
virgin, so that from a virgin wedlock a virgin Son was born.  For if as a
holy man he does not come under the  imputation of fornication, and it is no
where written that he had another wife, but was the guardian of Mary whom he
was supposed to have to wife rather than her husband, the conclusion is that
he who was thought worthy to be called father of the Lord remained a virgin."
---St. Jerome, The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, Against Helvedius, 21 (383
A.D.)

St. Basil the Great

"The friends of Christ do not tolerate hearing that the Mother of God ever
ceased to be a virgin."  St. Basil, Homilies, In Sanctum Christi
generationem, 5 (379 A.D.) 

St. Ambrose of Milan

"Imitate her, holy mothers, in her only dearly beloved Son set forth so great
an example of maternal virtue; for neither have you sweeter children, nor did
the Virgin seek the consolation of being able to bear another son."   ---St.
Ambrose,  To The Christian At Vercellae, Letter  63:111 (396 A.D.) 

St. Augustine of Hippo

"Her virginity also itself was on this acount more pleasing and acceptable,
in that it was not in Christ being conceived in her rescured it beforehand
from a husband who would violate it; Himself to preserve it; but, before He
was conceived, chose it, already dedicated to God, as that from which to be
born.  This is shown by the words which Mary spoke to the angel announcing to
her the Conception [of Jesus]; 'How,' says she, 'is this possible since I do
not know man?'  Which assuredly she would not say unless she had before vowed
herself unto God as a virgin.  But because the habits of the Israelites as
yet refused this, she was espoused to a just man, who would not take from her
by violence, but rather guard her against violent persons, what she had
already vowed.  Although, if she had said only, 'How can this take place?'
and had not added 'since I know not man,' certainly she would not have asked
how, being female, she should have given birth to her promised Son, if she
had married with purpose of sexual intercourse. ...Thus, Christ, being born
of a Virgin, who, before she knew Who was to be born of her, had determined
to continue a virgin, chose rather to approve, than to command, holy
virginity.  And thus, even in the female herself, in whom He took the form of
a servant, He willed that virginity should be free."  --St. Augustine, Of
Holy Virginity 4, (401 A.D.) 

St. Peter Chrysoslogus

"Where are they who think the Virgin's conception and giving birth to her
Child are to be likened to those of other women?  For this latter case is of
the earth, and the Virgin's is one from Heaven.  The Virgin conceives, the
Virgin brings forth her Child, and she remains a virgin."  --- St. Peter
Chrysoslogus,  Sermon 117 (A.D. 432) 

Pope St. Leo the Great

"For a Virgin conceived, a Virgin gave birth, and a Virgin she remained."
---  Pope St. Leo the Great Sermon 22:2, On The Feast of the Nativity (A.D.
461).

St. John Damascene 

"The Ever-Virgin One remains after the Birth still virgin, having never, at
any time, up until death, consorted with a man.  For although it is written,
'And he knew her not until she had brought forth her first-born Son,' note
that he who is first-begotten is first-born even if he is only-begotten.
For, the word 'first born' means that he was born first but does not at all
suggest the birth of others.  And the word 'until' signifies the limit of the
appointed time, but does not exclude the time thereafter.  For the Lord says,
'Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the world,' not meaning
thereby that He will be separated from us after the completion of the Age.
The divine Apostle (Paul) indeed says, 'And so shall we ever be with the
Lord,' meaning after the general resurrection."  --- St. John of Damascus,
Orthodox Faith, 4:14 (743 A.D.) 

In addition to these, as I've said, we have the early reformers (Luther,
Calvin and Zwingli), who say:  


LUTHER:

"It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a
virgin.... Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact."
(Weimer, The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St.
Louis, v.11, pp. 319-320; v. 6 p. 510.)


CALVIN

"There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest that from this
passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of
God, and that Joseph then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For
the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply
wished to make clear Joseph's obedience and to show also that Joseph had been
well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had
therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company...And besides
this, Our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because
there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard
to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or
not there was any question of the second." (Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25,
published 1562.)

ZWINGLI

"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, in Evang. Luc., v. 1, p. 424.)"


In light of the recent "discovery" in Israel of the ossuary belonging to St. James the Just, I presented a number of Scriptural reasons why St. James could not be the son of St. Joseph, and showed how Scripture itself unmasks the original, "Epiphanian" view of the oldest (Eastern fathers) as nothing more than a pastoral solution in defense of Mary's Perpetual Virginity, and shows St. Jerome's understanding (that "brother" and "sister" were merely Jewish terms for tribal relatives) to be correct.   As you recall, the strongest evidence for this is the fact that the Synoptic Gospels present us with the mother of James, and of Jesus' other "brother" Joseph [Jose], as still being alive at the time of the Crucifixion and Resurrection (e.g. compare Matt 13:55 and Mark 6:3 with and Matt 27:56 and Mark 15:40).  This being the case, Joseph could only be the father of James if a) he divorced this first wife or b) he practiced polygamy.  

Yet, even more destructive of the old, "Epiphanian" view of the Eastern fathers (which identified these brothers as the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage) is the patristic witness of the fathers themselves, all of whom depict James the Just as having Levitical, if not priestly characteristics!  In this, please note that St. Joseph was by-no-means a Levite, but a descendent of David from the tribe of Judah (Luke 1:27).    If James was his son, then James would have been a Judahite as well, and not a Levite with Jewish-priestly attributes.   Yet, notice what the early fathers have to say about him ...

Hegessipus (in Heges. apud Eus. ib.) maintains that St. James was so venerated for his sanctity by the Jerusalem Jews that he was permitted to enter the Holy Place of the Temple --an honor restricted to the Jewish priests alone (Luke 1:8-23)!   Surely, this would not be permitted unless James was of Levitical descent.  

What's more, St. Epiphanius reports that St. James, as Bishop of Jerusalem, wore a priestly lamina, or plate of gold, upon his head as a sign of his authority (Haer. 29).  This was, without question, done in imitation of the Jewish High Priest; and other fathers, like Polycrates, quoted by Eusebius (Eus b. 3, c. 24) testify that St. John Bar-Zebedee did the same; and still others say that St. Mark wore such a diadem as Bishop of Alexandria.    What's most interesting here is that, according to Scripture, St. John and St. Mark were clearly from Levitical (priestly) families.   John 18:15 implies that St. John was a close associate of the High Priest due to his Levitical connections; and St. Mark was the nephew of St. Barnabas, who Acts 4:36 describes as a Levite.  Thus, by wearing the priestly gold diadem as Christian bishops, both John and Mark were clearly expressing a kind of Levitical primacy within the Christian priesthood itsel, which may explain the reference in Acts 6:7, which speaks of how "even a large number of priests were becoming obedient to the Faith."  

Now, before addressing the form "Mariam" itself, let me first take a moment to defend my initial argument.  Essentially, if you will recall, I asserted that John 19:25 presents us with two sisters, both named "Mary" (i.e., the Mother of Jesus and Mary the wife of Clopas).  And I said how this is not a very likely or realistic scenario.  In response, you proposed that these may not be the same names at all (i.e., translations of the Hebrew/Aramaic "Miriame"), but two separate names.  And to support this view, you pointed out (most correctly) that the Synoptic Gospels consistently render the Blessed Virgin's name as "Mariam," whereas, in John 19, both Mary Magdalene and Mary of Clopas are presented as "Maria."  

Now, first of all, one must admit that St. John never uses the Blessed Virgin's actual name, but merely refers to her as "Jesus' mother."   Thus, we are not sure whether John himself would have called Mary "Mariam" or "Maria" in the text of his Gospel.   However, the one thing that we know with utmost certaintly is that John calls Mary Magdalene "Maria" in John 19:25, 20:1, and 20:11. Yet, if you look at John 20:16 and John 20:18, you will soon discover that he also calls this same Mary Magdalene "Mariam" as well (the very form used for the Blessed Virgin in the Synoptics).  Thus, I would argue that your "two different names" position does not stand, and "Mariam" and "Maria" are merely two variants of the same Aramaic name ("Miriame").  

As for the form "Mariam" itself, I'll be honest, I never happened to notice that the Greek text always uses this form for the Blessed Mother.   In fact, I find that quite curious, given both the Latin and the Greek Liturgical tradition of calling the Blessed Virgin "Maria."   The same is obviously true for the Church fathers and for Western Tradition in general, wherein, even to this day in Greece, girls are named (not "Mariam") but "Maria" in honor of the Blessed Theotokos.  

So, being totally perplexed by what you presented me today, I did a little research; and here's what the online Catholic encyclopedia has to say:

"In the New Testament the name of the Virgin Mary is always Mariam, excepting in the Vatican Codex and the Codex Bezae followed by a few critics who read Maria in Luke, ii, 19.  Possibly the Evangelists kept the archaic form of the name for the Blessed Virgin, so as to distinguish her from the other women who bore the same name. The Vulgate renders the name by Maria, both in the Old Testament and the New; Josephus (Ant. Jud., II, ix, 4) changes the name to Mariamme."  (Mary, Name of --Article II, www.newadvent.org). 

Now, aside from the interesting piece about the Vatican Codex and the Vulgate using the form "Maria," and the infrequent rendering of Luke 2:19 as "Maria" (my Greek Bible says "Mariam"), I find this idea that the Synoptics were preserving the original, Aramaic form of the Blessed Virgin's name rather fascinating.  Indeed, one really has to wonder whether it was an intentional attempt to distinguish between Jesus' mother and other notable Marys, or whether it was something more natural, given that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were personally familiar with the mother of God and used a more "Aramaic-friendly," conversational form of her name because of that.   Indeed, as you yourself touched on, a similar phenomenon appears in the case of Martha's sister Mary, who in both Luke (i.e., Luke 1:39-42) and in John (i.e., John 11:2-32 and 12:3) is consistently called, not "Maria," but "Mariam" (just like the Blessed Virgin).   This suggest to me a much more familiar, "conversational" form of the name, and this may be exactly why John switches to "Mariam" (and away from "Maria") in the case of Mary Magdalene in John 20:16 and 20:18.   In John 20:16, please note, John is recording Jesus' actual words to Mary Magdalene - a situation which, at first, would argue for a vocative declension alone.   Yet, John then retains the form "Mariam" in v. 18, apparently because a familiar, "conversational" tone was struck in his narrative by Jesus' words to her. 

Yet, all-in-all, and all textual arguments aside, the overwhelming witness of Tradition presents us with the Blessed Virgin, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, and Mary the sister of Martha as all possessing the same name.   Thus, just as with the variant between "Joseph" and "Jose" in Matt 13:55 and Mark 6:3, in which no one would seriously argue that two different men are being cited as Jesus' brother, we really have no grounds to conclude that "Mariam" and "Maria" are anything more than variant forms of the same Aramaic name. 

Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
July 20, 2004