Mary the Mother of God?

On my journey into the Catholic church there were three things that had the potential to derail me.  Mary, Mary, and Mary.  One of the objections I had, which sprang from my Baptist days, was the title of Mother of God for Mary.

After all God is eternal and has always existed.  That title, at least in my mind back then, meant that somehow Mary was exalted to a deified state in which she surely didn’t belong. and one she would surely object to herself.  How can a mere mortal be the Mother of God?  Thsi objection is one that is till quite prominent.  If you don’t believe me feel free to visit a Protestant/Catholic discussion forum on Facebook.  Simply ask if Mary is the Mother of God and watch the sparks fly.

This issue was settled by the church in the 400’s at the Council of Ephesus.  Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, objected to the long revered title of Mary known as Theotokos.  This is a Greek term that simply means “God-bearer”.  Nestorius decided to use a different term known as Christokos, or “Christ-bearer”.  This term is problematic for a couple reasons.  First and foremost Nestorius used this term in an attempt to maintain the two natures of Christ, but he failed, because by using this term, he separated the human and divine nature of Christ from the person of Christ.  His attempt to be Orthodox led him into heresy because Jesus had a human and divine nature while in the womb of Mary.

To say that Mary only gave birth the to human Jesus would deny the teaching of scripture that states he is human and divine.  Secondly, if Mary only gave birth to the human Jesus when did his divine nature arrive?  Do you see the Christological dilemma?  Either Jesus had both natures since conception or he did not.  To say he did not is to fall into error.  Adoptionism is one result that can come from this line of thinking, the other is one that denies the hypostatic union.  The latter is what would become known as Nestorianism.

The fact of Jesus having a human and divine nature coexisting in the one person of Jesus was upheld by the Council of Ephesus in 431.  As a result the Greek term for Mary known as Theotokos was upheld.  In short calling Mary the Mother of God has everything to do with understanding Jesus properly, and even less to do with Mary.  Regarding this para 495 of the Catechis states, “Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord”. In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos)”.

As stated a few sentences ago, Jesus was fully God and fully man from the time of his conception.  Mary gave birth to the second person of the Trinity, not a boy who would latter take on a divine nature.  The divine nature was already there.  Since Mary gave birth to Jesus, who we affirm to be God incarnate, she gave birth to God.  Yes my friends, it really is that simple.  Nestorianism is the logical consequence for those who deny the Theotokos.

Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a3p2.htm

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Doctrine Matters

Imagine someone saying that they love Jesus, but they abhor sacred doctrine and theology. As unfortunate as this sounds, it is something that happens on a daily basis within Christendom. There are also those, some through no fault of their own, that do not understand the importance of sacred doctrine. Understanding of sacred doctrine is important in many facets of our lives, not just the spiritual.

Sacred doctrine is important because we are oriented toward God, and this orientation exceeds that which we can describe. These truths are given to us by divine revelation. Some of these may have become known by some, but over time error would creep in (ST 1, Q1, A1). Sacred doctrine is important because it is taught by divine revelation. Furthermore, it is important because it is the study of our creator, and if we truly love him, we would strive to know everything possible to build a stronger relationship.

Sacred doctrine and the use of reason are not at odds. Quite the contrary, reason can lead to some truths of sacred doctrine (ST I, Q1, A1). However, reason can only get us so far and we eventually need to be enlightened by God to other truths. Sacred doctrine includes the philosophical and natural sciences. This is because both have their origins in God, and sacred doctrine is the study of God. As St Thomas Aquinas states, “But in sacred science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God: either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end” (STI, Q1, A7).

Works Cited

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne. Print.

Life in a State of Grace

When speaking of grace, it is important to remember that we are all sinners. There will be times when we reflect the love of God and live the Christian life well, and there will be times when we err and show our human imperfections. When we are in a state of grace, we are living the deiform life on earth imperfectly but truly. For one to do this sanctifying grace must be received because it provides the theological edifice that supersedes our human nature (Hardon Ch.4)

This deiform life, as John Hardon describes it, starts with the sacrament of Baptism. This sacrament infuses us with sanctifying grace and elevates us to partake in the divine life. In Baptism, we are born again in the way the scriptures speak. We are “born again in a new childhood of true innocence” (Hardon Ch.4). With original sin, and all sin, washed away we now partake in the deiform life imperfectly but truly. How can this be? We still have concupiscence, and though we may not fall into mortal sin we will commit venial sin. This is one of the reasons why Jesus established the sacramental system. Our physical bodies require exercise, sleep, and proper nourishment to grow into healthy adults. It is very similar in our spiritual lives as we need prayer and nourishment through the sacraments to continue in the practice of virtue (Hardon, Ch.4).

There are many saints throughout history that can be used to illustrate the example of the deiform life that living in a state of grace can bring about, but I feel the need to use a personal example. The Director of Religious education of St. Francis De Sales in Tucson, Arizona fits this mold. I am a member of the parish, and Maureen and her husband Deacon Russ, have been mentors. Maureen has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for many years and is often in great pain. However, she never complains and offers up her sufferings for the parish and the children that she is responsible for educating in the faith. Her life is an example of how living the Christian life can inspire someone else to do the same. She is involved in many other ministries, but no matter what is going on has the time to give an encouraging word, pray for someone, and answer questions about the faith. Her zeal to share the Gospel drives her and you can see grace at work in her life. Her life is a great example for those of us under her tutelage.

Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Varying Views of Grace

As a convert from Protestantism, one of the challenges was the concept of grace. It was taught, and still is, that justification and sanctification were an instantaneous barrage of grace that instantly transformed. Granted, this is more of a Baptist, view and can change based on denomination. This differs widely from the Catholic view that grace more of a renovation for the soul.

Protestant theology looks at grace as a forensic, or declarative, justification. The reformers saw the concept of concupiscence and took it a step further and said that man is totally depraved. This total depravity prevents man from doing anything good, and all good things done are done by God. Therefore, man is unable to do good even with the help of sanctifying grace. The work of Christ on the cross is therefore imputed to the sinners account when a faith in Christ is declared. Fr. John Hardon writes that in the Protestant view a sinner is “righteous by reason of the imputed merits of Christ and a sinner because his inherited guilt remains” (Hardon Ch.4). Justification is now a matter of declaration whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner making the Father see the sinner as righteous.

The is in stark contrast to the Catholic view that sees sanctifying grace as a transformative force that changes the sinner into a saint. The journey takes a lifetime and is fills with highs and lows. Through the sacrament of baptism all sin is washed away, and we have a clean slate. Through the voluntary of grace on a daily basis and is ours. Regarding this John Hardon states, “what we obtain is truly ours and no mere judicial attribution” (Hardon Ch.4). It is given to us to transform us, not merely to make a once time declaration and not change our nature. In the Protestant system we are not changed, and in the Catholic system Christ transforms us.

Works Cited

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Divine Providence

When we speak of divine providence it can be hard to understand how free will, efficacious grace, and perseverative grace can exist can fully exist within its context. If God knows how everything will turn out, then how can we truly exercise free will? These topics can be confusing to those who are just beginning their journey in faith, but they do have an explanation.

We must remember that God is not limited to time. In fact, he is outside time. Imagine that you had the ability to travel back in time to your childhood. You have the strange opportunity of observing how you interact with others. Though you know the outcome as an adult, you are observing your childhood self-using the gift of free will to make decisions. You know how those decisions will turn out, but you as a child still used your gift of reason to decide. This analogy is, of course, a hypothetical one.   Within the context of divine providence, we use our free will to cooperate with efficacious grace. Efficacious grace is grace given when we consent to it and always leads to good actions (Journet 2.10).

So, what of perseverative grace? Does God not grant us the power to persevere in grace? Regarding perseverance St. Thomas Aquinas writes that man “needs the Divine assistance guiding and guarding him against the attacks of the passions” (ST II, Q 109, A 10). This relates to free will and efficacious grace because, though it is freely given, it is still something that must be asked for. God will not deny this special help or deny his grace because of his divine providence (Hardon Ch. 3). Free will, efficacious grace, and perseverative grace can exist really and truly within the mystery of Divine Providence because they require an accent of the will and must be asked for.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981. Accessed August 10, 2018.

Hardon, John.  History and Theology of Grace.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Sapientia Press, 2005.

Journet, Charles.  The Meaning of Grace.   Princeton: Scepter Publishers, 1997.

Instruments of Grace

Within the theology of grace, we see a connection between the sacraments as instruments of grace, and Christ who is the instrument of grace. Opponents of the church argue that Christ is the sole mediator and cite 1 Timothy 2:5 as a prooftext. Regarding Christ being the only mediator between God and man the church agrees and has also taught it to be so. However, Christ can mediate in any way he desires since he is the second person of the blessed Trinity. Christ chose to mediate through the sacraments. Charles Journet describes this as, “Christ was to come as Mediator, to teach, to give his grace through the sacraments” (Journet 6.6).

It is important to make the distinction instruments of grace, and the instrument of grace. The two are quite different and the distinction is vital. The sacraments are instruments of grace because they were established by Christ to convey grace. He is the instrument through which the sacraments convey grace. St. Thomas Aquinas sums it up quite nicely when he writes, “The principal cause works by the power of its form, to which form the effect is likened; just as fire by its own heat makes something hot. In this way none but God can cause grace” (STIII, Q62, A1).

This is seen in all sacraments and in a profound way in the sacrament of reconciliation. In John 20:23 Jesus tells the disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (NRSV). We go to the priest to confess our sins. We are not confessing our sins to a man, but a man who is acting in the person of Christ. It is not a man that is forgiving our sin, but Jesus is working through the priest to do so.

Reconciliation is a part of repentance, and the sinner shows his intention by word and deed. The absolving of sin done by the priest is the work of God who forgives sin (STIII, Q84, A1). This shows that the sacraments are instruments of grace, and that Christ is the cause. Christ is the instrument as he instituted the sacraments.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologia. Trans. Thomas Gornall.  Blackfriars, St. Joseph, IN:  Ave Maria Press, 1981. Accessed September 15, 2018.

Stevens, P.G. The Life of Grace. New York: Prentice Hall, 1963.

Procession of Trinitarian Persons

The Trinity is a complex subject, and at times is very misunderstood. Some try to rationalize and fall into error by declaring a type Tritheism, or even Modalism. However, the persons of the Trinity are three persons of one essence. The Trinitarian Godhead is made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and all within the Trinity are two processions.
To understand this further it is helpful to define what a procession is. Within God there is a two-fold procession as was mentioned earlier. A procession is a general origin of one thing from another. There are two types of procession by which something can come. The first type of procession is known as Ad Extra. This type of procession speaks of something final springing from another. A good example of this would be a human father producing a son. From a theological perspective this is when something springs from God because God is the cause. The second procession type is Ad Intra, and this procession happens when something remains within its principal.
As previously stated, there are two typed of procession within the Trinity. It is also important to note that though different processions are present does not mean that there are different natures. Regarding this Garrigou-Lagrange state, “In the divine processions, for example, there is no diversity of nature (the nature remains numerically the same) but only a diversity of persons according to the opposition of relation” (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).
The Father proceeds from no one, and simply is because he has always been. The Father was never created nor begotten, but he does have the operations to know and to will (Lecture Notes). From these operations the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed respectively. To some this may seem that the Son and the Holy Spirit were somehow created? If that is the case then Church History needs to make amends with those who were condemned for heresy, but this is not the case. All are God, and it is from the Father that the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed in God (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. VII).
The Son proceeds from the Father for all eternity through generation. This type of procession we can see in several places in sacred scripture and also tradition. One such passage is John 1:18 which states, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (NRSV). Here we see the generation procession that indicates the special relationship and all-knowing nature of the Son. It is through him that we can have a knowledge of the Father. It is the Father’s principle that is being imitated, and this is because they are one essence (Garrigou-LaGrange Ch. VIII). In the tradition of the church, that is through the councils and writings of the early fathers, there is a constant teaching about the nature of Christ in relation to the Father. That teaching is that the Son is consubstantial and of the same substance of the Father, even though he is begotten. One cannot be begotten and consubstantial at the same time. The Son is the Son because he proceeds from generation.
The procession of the Holy Spirit varies from that of the Son. That is because the third person of the Trinity proceeds from the Father and the Son through spiration and as one principle (Lecture Notes). This is also seen in sacred scripture and tradition. One such verse is John 15:26 which states, “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf” (NRSV). This passage shows that the Spirit proceeds from the first two, and this is supported in early church writings from St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and the Councils of Florence and Lyons.

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#00, accessed November 27, 2018.

Sabellianism, Arianism, and the Need for Trinitarian Formulation

In the early church many were attempting to understand the divinity of Christ, and in extension the Holy Trinity.  Today, we have the benefit of the Church correcting false ideas.  However, when these ideas were formulated there was not a dogmatic decree regarding the Trinity though the dogma had been taught in the earliest days of the church.  The heresies of Monarchianism, Sabellianism, Subordinationism, and Arianism required that the church formally formulate the Trinitarian doctrine.

Dynamic Monarchian ism taught that the Father was true God, and that Christ was a man who was indwelled with a divine spirit (Preuss 126).  Patripassian Monarchianism takes it a step further by acknowledging Christ as divine but does not go far enough as the two are not of the same substance.  Sabellianism, or Modalism as it is also called, taught that God manifested himself in different modes and that there was only one person of the Godhead.  In short, God was made up of one person (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch.5).  Arianism denied the divinity of Christ and taught that He was a creation of the Father, and this was also the Arian view of the Holy Spirit.  In that regard, he was subordinate to the Father.  The heresies mentioned all have elements of subordinationism, because in various respects the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is lowered.

With these heresies being taught the souls of the faithful were at risk.  The church rightly saw that an attack on the persons of the Trinity was a salvific issue.  Afterall, if Christ was not fully divine then his sacrifice on the cross meant little or nothing.  The church responded to the heresies, and formally defined the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in 325.

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#05, accessed November 13, 2018.

Preuss, Arthur. The Divine Trinity.  https://archive.org/details/divinetrinityad00pohlgoog, accessed November 12, 2018.

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