6 Heresies about the Virgin Mary

A few days ago we covered 10 Heresies related to the birth of Christ at Christmas.

To follow up, here are 6 Historical Heresies about the Blessed Virgin Mary:


  1. Ebionism teaches that Joseph is the natural father of Jesus and that Mary and Joseph conceived Jesus in the way that all parents conceive children.. Ebionism was an early Jewish Christian movement that taught that Jesus was merely a mortal man with two human parents who reached the highest state of human sanctity and thereby received the honorific title of “son of God.” Many liberal Protestant pastors and teachers now hold to this view.
  2. Helvidianism. Helvidias taught that Mary was a virgin at Christ’s birth, but after the birth of Christ, she and Saint Joseph engaged in marital relations and conceived a number of children. While the early Protestant Reformers affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary, most subsequent Protestants hold the view of Helvidias.
  3. Valentinianism taught that Holy Spirit deposited the Christ Child in her womb and that Mary was the a surrogate mother, but not truly Christ’s genetic mother. Valentinian the Gnostic (d. 160) taught that the Son of God passed through Mary like water through a straw. The Apostle Paul refutes this when he writes, “God sent His Son, made of a woman.”
  4. Collyridianism is the heresy that holds that Mary is a divine goddess worthy of the worship of adoration. The heresy was popular in pre-Islamic Arabia (AD 300s-500s) and it is likely the reason that the Arabic Quran wrongly assumes that the Christian Trinity is God, Jesus, Mary. The heresy’s name of Collyridianism comes from the Greek word κολλυρις meaning “bread roll” since adherents offered quasi-Eucharistic bread sacrifice to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  5. Nestorianism teaches that Jesus is two “persons.” The archbishop Nestorius (yes, not all archbishops are orthodox) denied that Mary was the “Theotokos” or “Bearer of God” by saying that she was the mother only of the “human Jesus” and not the “divine Jesus.” On the contrary, the Catholic Church teaches that Christ is one person with two natures: divine nature and human nature. Hence Mary is the mother of the divine Person who is the Son of God. Logically, she is the Mother of He who is God the Son. She is the Mother of God, though not the Mother of the divine essence of the Trinity.
  6. Iconoclasm teaches that images are idolatrous. Iconoclasm condemns images of Christ, Mary, and the saints. On the contrary, the Catholic Church defends the use of Christian (not pagan) images since Christ became visible through the incarnation.

Do you want to learn more about Catholic Theology and how to share and defend it? We have teaching modules on Heresies and the Mariology (study of the Blessed Virgin Mary). If so, please join the New Saint Thomas Institute. Enrollment for 2015 is open for a limited time: newsaintthomas.com.

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  • Joseph Girod

    The fallacy in support of Helvidianism is that Mary had to present her first born child to the temple (wrongly understood as the first out of two or more instead of the first or only child). As this occurred forty days after Christ’s birth, somebody yet has to explain us how to give birth to a second child in such a short time frame.

    • KarenJo12

      That’s not it at all. The reason we believe that Helvidianism is correct is that the Gospels refer in several places to Jesus’s brothers and sisters. St. Paul, in Galatians 1:18 – 19, refers to Jude as “the brother of our Lord.”

      • Joseph Girod

        Either argument is used depending on people.
        About the other argument, please read the other posts.

    • Cheryl

      It’s rather interesting to call it a “heresy” or even a “fallacy” that Joseph and Mary were actually married. (Marriage without consummation is not marriage.) We are told in Scripture that Joseph took Mary as his wife, that he “knew her not” until after Jesus’ birth, and we are told about Jesus’ brothers and sisters. We are NOT told in Scripture that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and considering that she was married, she would have been sinning if she had remained a virgin.

      The logical conclusion in reading the New Testament is that Mary did not remain a virgin. Believing that she did may not rise to the level of “heresy,” but it’s rather silly and unjustifiable. But to call it “heresy” to read Scripture in the natural meanings of the words, and to understand that Mary, as a married woman and a mother of several children, did not remain a virgin after Jesus’ birth, when she took up normal marital relations with her husband . . . that is quite simply absurd.

      • Joseph Girod

        1 — The fallacy refers to the interpretation of “first born child” as meaning first out of several. This is contradictory with the commandment to bring the first born boy to the temple.

        2 — I am curious to where you take it that “Marriage without consummation is not marriage”. Indeed, it is usually pointless to marry without consuming, but in specific occasions a formal marriage can be useful: a man who wants to protect a pregnant woman and her child (after she had an affair or was raped) or a king who has to get married for constitutional, diplomatic or even convenience reasons, like st Stephen and st Elizabeth of Hungary or st Henry of Germany with st Cunigond. In the case of Our Lord, it was for his and Mary’s good standing and, according to some, to hide the origin of Jesus-Christ to the demons. Catholics do need a dispensation to part away from a not consumed
        marriage (usually they do it to become priest and nun), which assumes the case
        exists. Should I add that the consummation has no witness, so people must be publicly taken as married solely on the exchange of consent.
        3 — The meaning of the brothers and sister is probably discussed at length in the remainder of the thread

      • Micha Elyi

        We are told in Scripture that Joseph took Mary as his wife, that he “knew her not” until after Jesus’ birth…

        Wrong. Go re-read the Gospels again. You’ll find that the word “after” that you put in your remark is your own invention.

        P.S. I knew a woman who was childless until the day she died. I am not saying that therefore the Mormon belief about women birthing spirit-children after death is true.

  • Betty

    Small question: how does Catholic Theology deal with scriptural references to Jesus having siblings? Thank you for the article.

    • Tim

      Hi Betty, could you maybe give the specific chapter/verse that you’re questioning… the easiest answer is that even though there are places where individuals are referred to as “brothers” I don’t know of one which identifies them as “sons or daughters of Mary”, so those individuals could be close relatives (e.g., half-brothers or cousins) and/or they’re “brothers” in the same sense we use when referring to close/intimate friends who have become in essence members of our family e.g. when we address fellow Christians as brother or sister.

  • Victor

    Doctor Marshall, it is great that you explained the 6 Historical Heresies about the Blessed Virgin Mary but you know what they say about leading a horse to water?

    I hear YA NOW! I’m not talking about horses Victor, I’m speaking in human term…lol:

    God Bless

  • queensrealm

    Dr Marshall, I truly enjoy your teachings. Keep up the good work you are doing… and be blessed in this New Year.

  • Ed

    I once heard the Pentecostal preacher Jimmy Swaggart make a Valentinianism-like statement when he said that Jesus did not share the DNA and flesh of Mary(how would he know!) and that Mary was only an incubator(surrogate).

  • Laurence Coventry

    Helvidianism: Christ had brothers by name and sisters by number in the famous episode where a prophet is not honoured in his own country, in preaching at Nazareth. One of these became a martyred leader of the Church before the Diaspora of AD 70. The New Testament was written in Greek in which philadelphos means blood brother. Orthodoxy, aware of this situation, declared an earlier marriage for Joseph, not proven and not accepted by Rome. Johnnie come latelies, Origen and Jerome, speculated about cousins and in laws, to cover the dogma of perpetual virginity.
    Jews had to marry by 33 at that time. Joseph was in stout enough form to lead his bride on a donkey to Bethlehem, his wife and child by donkey to Egypt, there to earn his living by his trade in a foreign land for five years, then to travel to Nazareth, again to work, and to go up to Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s presentation in the temple at the age of 12.He was therefore not an old man, although his death is implied by the events involving The Virgin Mary and St John at the time of the crucifixion.
    Further, Gabriel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary to wife. It is common ground that he knew her socially beforehand. Matthew tells us that he did not know Mary ( as man and wife) until
    after the birth of Jesus. Rome struggles to maintain in this context that the little divisive word “until” loses all its salt and flavour. An attempt by St Basil, quoted in the volume “Theotokos” takes the analogy of the woman who had no children “until” she died. This leaves out the central issue that she had no children while this was to be expected in a non contraceptive era, until some event supervened, whether age illness or death, which then rendered the normally expected event impossible. “Until” still marks a divisive distinction.
    What is so wrong about a normal married relationship?
    Why is it that a child is called a gift from God, but that the process which starts its journey into this world is in some circumstances regarded as defilement, even in this case within Marriage?

    • KP3243

      There is nothing wrong with normal married relationship at all it is so beautiful but it is only earthly. No one will marry or will be given in marriage in Heaven. Why the Church has sustained celibate priesthood and consecrated virginity in every generation for the past 2000 years is that it is a superior state of life than that of marriage. The aim is at only the divine, to turn the whole mind and soul to Him; to want to please God in everything, to think of Him continually, to consecrate body and soul completely to Him. The vow of celibacy an act of virginal consecration are made by the free will of those taking the vows, no one forces them to. It is an act of love that they freely give to God. Right from Apostolic times this virtue has been thriving and flourishing in the garden of the Church. When the Acts of the Apostles says that Philip the deacon was the father of four virgins, the word certainly refers to their state of life rather than to their age. And not much later Ignatius of Antioch salutes the virgins, who together with the widows, formed a not insignificant part of the Christian community of Smyrna. In the second century, as St. Justin testifies, “many men and women, sixty and seventy years old, imbued from childhood with the teachings of Christ, keep their integrity.” Gradually the number of men and women who had vowed their chastity to God grew; likewise the importance of the office they fulfilled in the Church increased notably. Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin give these gifts to God as acts of love which is precisely why the Blessed Virgin asks the angel Gabriel for some clarification on how she is going to become a mother which would be an odd question for a young engaged woman to ask. Her own question reveals she knows how the human body works so there is something different about her motherhood.

      • Laurence Coventry

        Except for the last two sentences, quite so. I was prepared for confirmation by a voluntary celibate Anglican priest at boarding school in Cape Town. Confirmation was by the Archbishop of Cape town on Whutsunday 1953, some ten days before the queen’s coronation and a good eighteen years before

      • Cheryl

        Marriage is a gift from God just as singleness is. Since the New Testament explains that the qualifications for an elder include that he be a husband of one wife (perhaps not requiring marriage, but most certainly allowing it), any sect that forbids marriage to its elders is biblically in error, and falsely exalts virginity.

        It is interesting that (as far as I know) the only one of Christ’s apostles that we know for sure was married is Peter. Two New Testament references (at least two) tell us so: First, Christ healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and then Paul tells us that the church leaders have a right to have a believing wife, and he mentions Cephas (Peter) as one who has a wife.

        It’s almost like God wants to make sure that we understand that one of the founders of His church, Peter, was married, and that anyone who teaches that church leaders should be unmarried is teaching falsely.

    • KP3243

      The Greek word translated “until” does not imply normal marital conduct after Jesus’ birth, nor does it exclude it. You simply cannot say that Joseph and Mary were having marital relations because a translated word that could have two possible meanings is used and completely exclude what every generation has upheld for 2000 years.

      • Laurence Coventry

        Then why was the duality of meaning ignored or suppressed? Why would Matthew have commented in an update to Gabriel’s encouragement to Joseph except to confirm that Mary remained virgin until Jesus had been born?. The insistence on one direction forces the presumption of the extended family for brothers and sisters. These were first and foremost also from the village of Nazareth, so we are told at that stage that Christ was not accepted by his own close blood relatives, although one died a martyr in Jerusalem as head of the Church before the diaspora of AD70. How close? I have it from a regularly religiously practising Greek Orthodox solicitor that the word philadelphos means exclusively a single blood brother. The New Testament does not speak of a voluntary celibacy commitment by Mary or Joseph.

        • Constantino

          Lawrence, all these fuss on the word “until” are pointless. Just ask the questions: Will the Holy Spirit who impregnated Mary allow anyone else to mess with His spouse? Will Joseph, who is a just man, as the scripture says, knowing that the Holy Spirit impregnated, thereby espoused Mary, adulterate with her? Remember Mary was pregnant with the Son of God before Joseph married her. I dare say the Holy Spirit “married” Mary before Joseph did. Therefore, the Holy Spirit has the first claim on Mary as His spouse. Joseph knows this. He, Joseph, married Mary just to protect her honor and her life and the life of Jesus, the Son of God, that she bore. If Joseph made it to bed with Mary, he would have committed adultery knowing that she is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. As a just man, he would not do it. Last question: The scripture says Mary is Full of Grace being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Being full of grace and “possessed by the Holy Spirit as His spouse” will she have not the self control, the Gift of the Holy Spirit, to reign in her baser sexual instincts? Being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and full of grace, she is more spiritual than carnal.The new Testament does not have to expressly, explicitly, verbalize every issue on Mary we have today. REASON EXPLAINS THE REST.

  • Howard

    I’m only surprised we don’t see more of Collyridianism these days, given the popularity of tripe like the Da Vinci Code.

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  • trueseek1

    How did Collyridianism lead to dogma of sinlessness of The Theotokos in modern day Rome, which the rest of Catholic Orthodox around the world do not hold to? (i.e. St. John Chrysostom homilies and others in late 4th century and 5th century show that the Catholic Orthodox theology did not accept dogma of sinlessness of Mary? Thanks.

    • Teeno

      St. John Chrysostom in not the Pope. Orthodox Churches do not teach with the same Authority as Peter.