A: This doctrine underwent a period of discussion until the late fourth century when general consensus emerged. The earliest witness to the perpetual virginity of Mary seems to appear in the apocryphal Protogospel of James (circa 150). Tertullian (d, circa 220) denied the virginity of Mary after Jesus’ birth. Origen (d 254), by contrast, taught Mary’s perpetual virginity. In the East, St. Athanasius strongly defended Mary’s virginity after the birth of Jesus. Shortly after, St.Basil the Great (d, circa 380) accepted Mary’s perpetual virginity and claimed that it reflected the general sense of believers, though he did not consider it to be a dogma. Around the same time in the West, Jovinian and Helvidius denied the perpetual virginity while Ambrose (d. 397), Jerome (d. 420) and Augustine (d. 430) staunchly defended it. After this time, monasticism spread widely and the value of consecrated virginity became better known and widely accepted. General agreement and clear teaching on the perpetual virginity of Mary seem to have followed.
There are other norms by which the Church may have assurance that a teaching has been infallibly revealed by God: consensus fidelium (i.e. general agreement among the entire body of believers “from the bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” [Lumen Gentium #12]); and “universal ordinary magisterium” (i.e. frequent authoritative teachings affirming one perspective on a topic given by the Pope alone, or by the episcopate in general). On the topic of Mary’s perpetual virginity, we have double assurance that the teaching may be considered as infallibly revealed in light of the statement of the fifth Ecumenical Council and by virtue of its constant use in the life of the Church afterwards (i.e. consensus of the faithful and universal ordinary magisterium).
The dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity is not merely a reference to a historical fact. This historical fact has a a deeper meaning, a spiritual dimension. It speaks of the radical character of her God-relatedness. The life of Mary exists only for, in and through God. Further, it speaks of the singularity of the Christ event. Finally, note that this teaching illustrates Mary’s character as type of the Church:
Today, the thinking of Muslims tends to be characterised by an “intolerance of ambiguity.” Just as the Salafists claim to represent the one “true” Islam, many in the West have fallen into the Salafists’ trap of believing that there should be only one Islam. This “Homo Islamicus,” whose every thought and deed is supposed to rotate around nothing other than Islam, is, however, simply ill-suited to the challenges of everyday life.
Exactly two hundred years ago, Goethe began reading the “Divan” by the Persian poet Hafez. Five years later, he created a monument to the Muslim Orient with his “West-Eastern Divan.” Goethe was deeply impressed by Hafez’ liberal observance of Islam, convinced that such a free spirit could never have been inspired by a totalitarian form of Islam.
All of this tends to bolster the viewpoint that Islam is fixated on violence and is irreconcilable with the modern age. Although there might appear to be evidence to support this view, basing an opinion on such evidence is far too simplistic. The problem is not Islam itself, but rather the Muslims who practice it.
World religions such as Christianity and Islam have been able to endure for so long because they are flexible and always offer the faithful enough room to adapt to new circumstances. Islam permits a great deal, among other things because one Koran sura says one thing and another says the opposite.
The terrorist organisations Boko Haram and Islamic State as well as the Taliban also share a common feature: they all claim to be based on Islam. Moreover, in recent weeks, pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the streets of Europe have attracted attention to themselves by shouting anti-Semitic slogans.
In every era, there have been terrorist groups in the Islamic world. In the twelfth century, for instance, there were the Assassins, the equivalent of today’s al-Qaida and its successor organisations. Such groups were and still are dangerous. However, they have never developed into mass movements. In fact, the opposite is the case. The Arab Muslims were only able to conquer the Levant virtually without a fight in the seventh century , because the local Oriental Christians welcomed them as liberators from the repressive Byzantine state church.
Just over a quarter of a century ago, the French Islamic scholar Maxime Rodinson wrote a book entitled “Europe and the Mystique of Islam”. Since then, Islam has come to be viewed as a threat. Nowhere else in the world are there as many wars as in the area that stretches from North Africa, through the Levant and all the way to the Hindu Kush. The countries spanned by this arc have one thing in common: they are all Muslim.