Aquinas Day By Day


Aquinas’s Topic: Reading Scripture rightly about Mary

Scripture: Isaiah [ ]: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son [ ].”

John 2:12: “After this he went down to Capharnaum, he and his mother and his brothers.”

Aquinas’s Texts: Summa theologiae III.28.2 and III.28.3 ad 5m

Like all readers of Scripture, Br. Thomas had to decide when to take the text literally and when to understand it spiritually or metaphorically. His decisions were guided by his understanding of the nature of Christ as developed in Church tradition. He therefore understood the passage from Isaiah literally but the reference to the “brothers” of Christ metaphorically.

Br. Thomas’s “response” to art. 2:

Without any doubt one must assert that the mother of Christ was a virgin even in his birth, for the prophet not only says “behold a virgin shall conceive” but also adds Aand shall bear a son.” Now this was fitting for three reasons: First, because it was consistent with a property of him who would be born, that he is the Word of God. . . Second, it is fitting concerning the effect of the incarnation of Christ, for he came for this purpose: to destroy our corruption. . . Third, it was fitting that he who commanded us to honor our parents not in his birth diminish the honor due to his mother.

Br. Thomas’s reply to Obj. 5:

As Jerome says in commenting on Matthew 12: 49-50, ‘Some suppose that the ‘brothers of the Lord’ were Joseph’s sons by another wife; but we understand the ‘brothers of the Lord’ were not sons of Joseph, but cousins of the savior, the sons of Mary his mother’s sister. For Scripture speaks of brothers in four senses, namely, brothers by birth, by tribe, by family, by affection.’ Therefore, the ‘brothers of the Lord’ are so called, not by birth as born from the same mother, but by family, as being his blood-relations. But Joseph, as Jerome says against Helvidius, is more to be believed to have remained a virgin, ‘since it is not written that he had another wife,’ and ‘fornication does not apply to the holy man.’

Respondeo dicendum quod absque omni dubio asserendum est matrem Christi etiam in partu virginem fuisse, nam propheta non solum dicit, ecce, virgo concipiet; sed addit, et pariet filium. Et hoc quidem conveniens fuit propter tria. Primo quidem, quia hoc competebat proprietati eius qui nascebatur, quod est verbum Dei.. Secundo, hoc est conveniens quantum ad effectum incarnationis Christi. Nam ad hoc venit ut nostram corruptionem tolleret. Unde non fuit conveniens ut virginitatem matris nascendo corrumperet. Unde Augustinus dicit, in quodam sermone de nativitate domini, fas non erat ut per eius adventum violaretur integritas, qui venerat sanare corrupta. Tertio fuit conveniens, ne matris honorem nascendo diminueret qui parentes praeceperat honorandos.

Ad quintum dicendum quod quidam, sicut dicit Hieronymus, super Matth., de alia uxore Ioseph fratres domini suspicantur. Nos autem fratres domini, non filios Ioseph, sed consobrinos salvatoris, Mariae materterae filios intelligimus. Quatuor enim modis in Scriptura fratres dicuntur, scilicet natura, gente, cognatione et affectu. Unde fratres domini dicti sunt, non secundum naturam, quasi ab eadem matre nati, sed secundum cognationem, quasi consanguinei eius existentes. Ioseph autem, sicut Hieronymus dicit, contra Helvidium, magis credendus est virgo permansisse, quia aliam uxorem habuisse non scribitur, et fornicatio in sanctum virum non cadit.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]