Virgin saints

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John the Apostle
John the Apostle. Public domain

Msgr. Charles Pope Question: I’ve noticed in my readings that the term “virgin” only refers to female saints. Are there any male saints considered “virgin”? Is there a biblical definition?

Paul Flint, via email

Answer: While “virgin” and “young girl” could be used interchangeably in ancient Hebrew, that is not likely the source of the usage in our language, which draws more from Greek and Latin roots. Rather, as with many words, “virgin” can have a more general sense and a more restricted sense. In the general and widest sense the word, “virgin” refers to anyone who has not experienced or engaged in sexual intimacy with someone else. As such, it can refer to a man or a woman. However, over time and especially in the Church, the word is used more in the restricted sense, referring to a woman who has not engaged in sexual intimacy. Thus, while all religious take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, women religious refer to their vow of chastity as virginity, while male religious usually call it celibacy. Fundamentally it comes down to usage or convention more than a strict difference.

Hence, it is very rare to hear a man referred to as a virgin, or his vow of chastity called virginity. There is one notable exception, in the Liturgy of the Hours. St. John the Apostle, on his feast day of Dec. 27, has several antiphons that refer to him as a virgin. For example, “John, the apostle and evangelist, a virgin chosen by the Lord. …” Or again, “To the virgin John, Christ, dying on the cross, entrusted his virgin mother.” To modern ears this sounds a bit strange, but the antiphons are ancient and are likely chosen to emphasize his innocence and purity, and possibly his youthfulness at the time of Christ’s passion.

The original sin(s)

Question: What would have happened if Eve sinned but Adam did not?

Peter Tate, Long Beach, California

Answer: Original sin is called the sin of Adam, not the sin of Adam and Eve. In terms then of your question, had only Eve sinned, we would not all inherit original sin.

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches: “The Apostle says, ‘By one man sin entered into this world’ (Rom 5:12). Now if the woman would have transmitted original sin to her children, he should have said that it entered by two, since both of them sinned, or rather that it entered by a woman, since she sinned first. Therefore original sin is transmitted to the children, not by the mother, but by the father” (Summa Theologiae I, IIae, Q. 81 Art 5).

St. Thomas also goes on to speak in terms of the principle of generation: “Now it is evident that in the opinion of philosophers, the active principle of generation is from the father, while the mother provides the matter. Therefore, original sin, is contracted, not from the mother, but from the father: so that, accordingly, if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would not contract original sin: whereas, if Adam, and not Eve, had sinned, they would contract it” (Ibid).

Remember here that St. Thomas is not speaking in terms of genetics but in terms of the marital act per se, wherein the man acts upon the woman, and the woman receives the man. Hence, he is the “active principle of generation.” Thus original sin is transferred from him and by him.

It is also in this sense that Christ alone is our savior. While Mary’s role as the new Eve places her at the foot of the cross, nevertheless, she does not save us, but Christ alone.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at Send questions to