Augustine on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary in Scripture
Saint Augustine famously interpreted the “closed gate” through which passed the “prince” in Ezek 44 as a type of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Mary is the closed city and the prince miraculously passed through the closed gate.
Here is the beautiful passage from Augustine describing from Scripture why Saint Joseph and Saint Mary did not consummate their marriage:
“This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it. Because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it” (Ezek 44:2).
What means this closed gate in the house of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that ‘no man shall pass through it,’ save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this:
“The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it,” except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of Angels shall be born of her?
And what means this – “It shall be shut for evermore,” but that Mary is a Virgin before His birth, a Virgin in His birth, and a Virgin after His birth.”
Saint Augustine was one of history’s best Bible scholars and his interpretation of Ezekiel’s prophecy has been followed by the Catholic Church ever since.
We know that sexual continence, in both the Old and New Covenants, is holy and sacred. Saint Joseph, as Augustine explained, would not have violated the Blessed Mother’s womb which had become a sacred shrine of God’s presence.
Moreover, sexual continence is holy in itself. For example, the sexual continence of David and his companions qualify them to eat the Bread of Presence, which was restricted to Levites. (1 Sam 21:4). David and his men were not Levites, but they were allowed to eat the sacred bread because they had not been with their wives. Hence, their sexual continence loaned them the status of priesthood.
The Catholic Church reads this Davidic account as teaching that sexual continence makes a man into a warrior-priest, one consecrated to the Lord…even Uriah the Hittite understood this:
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” (2 Sam 11:11).
Saint Joseph (a son of David) was also a warrior-priest who is a dream-prophet like Joseph the Patriarch. Saint Joseph led the true Israel (Christ) into Egypt and back again to the Promised Land. He is the chaste one, just as Joseph the Patriarch remained chaste in the house of his master. Joseph dared not enter the womb that God had already indwelt. Just as the utensils of the Temple in Babylon remained holy to the Lord after the exile, so Mary’s womb remains holy and consecrated.