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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Behold Your Mother

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary of Magdala.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved,
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
After this, aware that everything was now finished,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
Jesus said, “I thirst.”
There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop
and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said,
“It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

Now since it was preparation day,
in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath,
for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one,
the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken
and they be taken down.
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first
and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs,
but one soldier thrust his lance into his side,
and immediately Blood and water flowed out.-John 19:25-34

The episode mentioned in today’s Gospel is one that in only mentioned in John’s Gospel.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke have no mention of it for good reason.  John was the only disciples that stuck with Jesus during the crucifixion, and there he witnessed an amazing exchange.  Watching the savior of the world in agony on the cross must have been amazing enough, but he also witnessed a son loving his mother.  In his final moments he wanted to make sure that his mother was taken care of.  He tells John “Son, behold your mother”.  This would not have happened if Mary had other children.  In fact, it would have broken Mosaic law to do so.  It was the responsibility of the eldest son to take care of mom, and if something would have happened it would go to the next oldest.

There are a couple observations to take from today’s Gospel reading.  Firstly, Mary had no other children which would go to prove Church teaching about her perpetual virginity.  Secondly John takes care of Mary as his own mother.  John’s mom was still alive during the crucifixion, and yet Jesus hands her over to him.  As Christians we are adopted sons, and therefore Jesus is also giving Mary to us as our mother.  Christ is the head of the church, and Mary is his mother, as adopted sons she is our mother.  She is the mother of the Church.  Behold your mother.

 

Quote

“If anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his Mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother.” -Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Theotokos and the Council of Ephesus

Within the early church there were many issues when it came to Christology.  Some would take a piece of scripture and develop a whole theology without properly exegeting or considering what other scriptures say on an issue.  To put it in modern terms it was proof texting, but on a grandiose scale.  A scale in which souls were at stake.  The Council of Ephesus was called to discuss the unity of Christ.  More specifically, how can he be truly God and truly human?  As if this issue were not enough to cause division there was a political component as well.  The Christian patriarchs of Antioch, Constantinople, and Alexandria had a rivalry which stemmed from Constantinople calling itself the “New Rome”.  At the center of the council were two bishops by the names of Nestorius and St. Cyril of Alexandria.

Nestorius was a priest who became the patriarch of Constantinople.  He was trained in Antioch which had a very good reputation of defending the humanity of Christ.  Nestorius starts with diversity in Christ (two natures) then gets into trouble when trying to explain how they come together.  In attempting to explain the humanity of Christ, Nestorius looked at the blessed virgin Mary.  Most churches at the time called Mary the theotokos, or mother of God.  Nestorius made the suggestion that Mary should have the title of theodochos, or the recipient of God (Norris 26).  Later on he would make the suggestion to call her Christotokos, or the mother of Christ.  By doing this Nestorius was making an attempt to preserve the humanity of Christ, but the way he did so was complex and in the end failed to preserve the unity of Christ.

Nestorius used a Stoic concept of what makes an individual in his argument.  Properties are inseparable to the person, and Nestorius believed that Christ should exist as two individuals (hypostasis) or two person (prosopon).  He didn’t believe that natures changed which is good because that would make him just like Apollinaris about a century earlier.  Since natures can’t change Nestorius proposed that there was a third person involved (Lecture Notes).  Problem is Christ only has two natures, and third nature or person being involved is a big Christological problem.

Hearing the argument of Nestorius, Cyril took the opportunity to say that Christ was one individual.  He did this by employing the term mia physis, or one nature.  To Cyril, the view of Nestorius implied that there were two different Christ’s.  By saying that there is one nature, Cyril is not saying that Christ did not have a human nature.  He is saying that there is a human soul that is in union with his divinity.  This term is known as the hypostatic union and is still a term that is used today.

Nestorius was eventually condemned at the Council of Ephesus for his “two sons” doctrine (Norris 28).  Cyril, who by all accounts was very uncharitable to Nestorius, called him a “New Judas”.  The council righty confirmed the orthodox position of Mary being the theotokos.  She gave birth to the whole person of Christ, not just his humanity.  To think the divine came later would be a type of adoptionism.  The council was crucial in upholding the humanity and the divinity of Christ, and it is one we can look to today for those who deny the theotokos. 

Image result for theotokos

Works Cited

Norris, Richard A.  The Christological Controversy.  Fortress Press Philadephia: PA, 1980.  Print.

 

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