A Weekly Defense of the Faith: Holy Mary, Mother of God

Week 1: January 2, 2017

Opening Prayer

O gracious Mother of the gracious God, O most pure and blessed Mary, the Mother of God, pour the mercy of thy Son and our God upon my impassionate soul, and with thine intercessions set me unto good deeds, that I may pass the rest of my life without blemish and, with thine aid, attain heaven. O Virgin mother of God, the only one who art pure and blessed. O Queen of the Heavenly Host, Defender of our souls: being delivered from evil, as thy servants, O Mother of God, we offer unto thee the hymns of thanks and victory; but as thou hast power invincible, deliver us from all calamity, that we may cry unto thee: Rejoice, O ever-Virgin Bride!

Why do we call Mary ‘Mother of God?’

The Solemnity of the Mother of God, celebrated on January 1st, serves to remind us Jesus being born in a manger, in the middle of the night in the humble little village of Bethlehem was just the beginning of the story. Mary being called “Mother of God” goes back to the very beginnings of the Church and came out of a great debate, not about whether or not Mary was the Mother of God, but debates about the true nature of Christ. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the question of the divinity of Christ was largely settled. However, debates about the relationship of Christ’s divine and human nature raged on.

Mary’s role as ‘Mother of God’ came to rest at the center of this debate. There is evidence that Christians referred to Mary as Theotokos, meaning “God-bearer.” The earliest written evidence can be seen in the writings of Origen of Alexandria. in 230 AD. However, in the early 400’s the patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, objected to this title because he suggested that Mary was only the mother or gave birth the Jesus’ human nature, but not his divine nature. The problem with this is, mothers don’t give birth to ‘natures’, they give birth to people. Nestorius’ ideas were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, and again at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. The Church decided that Christ was fully God and fully human, and these natures were united in one divine person, Jesus Christ. Thus Mary could be called “Mother of God” since she gave birth to Jesus who was fully divine as well as human.

The Council of Ephesus, held in A.D. 431 confirmed the dogma on the Mother of God, stating:

“The One whom [Mary] 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.’”

Interestingly enough, the second half of the Hail Mary, beginning with the address, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” can trace its roots back to this council.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on The Mother of God

Since the Virgin Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. “The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.”502 “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.”503

How could Mary give birth to God, when He is eternal?

No informed Catholic, Orthodox, or classical Protestant understands the term Theotokos or the similar title “Mother of God” to mean that Mary gave birth to the Trinity before time began. This would be absurd and downright wrong. However, as stated above, calling Mary Theotokos, or “Mother of God,” affirms that Mary gave birth to Christ who is both God and man. When Jesus was in Mary’s womb, He was fully God and fully man. When Jesus passed through Mary’s birth canal, he did so as one fully human, but also as one fully God. To separate the human and divine natures of Christ the way Nestorius did is to incorrectly divide Jesus into two persons, one divine and one human.

Thus, affirming Mary as the mother of God has more to do with who Jesus is, than who Mary is. By saying Mary is the Mother of God, the Catholic Church is not saying that Mary is the source of the divine nature among the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, nor is she the source of the divine nature of the second Person. But she doesn’t have to be in order to be the Mother of the second Person of the Blessed Trinity incarnate. How about this as an example? My wife has given birth to three children. But this does not mean she is the source of their immortal souls. God directly and immediately created their soul as he does with every human being (see Eccl. 12:7). However, we do not conclude then that my wife is merely “the mother of our children’s bodies.” She is their mother, period. She did not give birth to bodies; she gave birth to three human persons who are body/soul composites. Just as Jesus is both divine nature and human nature, but ONE person, Jesus.

Scriptural Evidence

New Testament

Luke 1:35 The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.’

Scripture clearly tells us “the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.” Mary is the Mother of the Son of God, or the Mother of God.

Luke 1:42 (Elizabeth) cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” The phrase “Blessed are you among women” really means “you are most blessed of ALL women.” A circumlocution is used because there is no superlative in the Greek language. Something very important for us here is to note how Elizabeth praises Mary first, then Jesus. This is hyperdulia*(but not latria which is worship due to God alone.) We too can go through Mary to praise Jesus.

Luke 1:43 And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Elizabeth’s use of “mother of my Lord” (in Hebrew, Elizabeth says”Adonai” which means Lord God) is the equivalent of “Holy Mary, Mother of God” which us what we pray in the Rosary. The formula is simple: Jesus is a divine person, and this person is God. Mary is Jesus’ Mother, so Mary is the mother of God (again, Mary is not just the mother of Jesus’ human nature – mothers are mothers of persons, not natures).

Luke 1:46-49 And Mary said: 46 “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 47 my spirit rejoices in God my savior. 48 For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. 49 The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Mary claims that her soul magnifies the Lord. This is a bold statement from a young Jewish girl from Nazareth. Her statement is a strong testimony to her uniqueness. Mary, as our the Mother of God and our mother too, as we are adopted sons and daughters of God, magnifies our prayers as well.

Old Testament

The Old Testament gives us precedent for the importance of the mother of the King and her role in the lives of the followers of the King.

In Hebrew culture, the Queen was the Mother of the King. Since Mary is the mother of Jesus, our King, that makes Mary, our Queen too. Old testament scripture gives us an example of how we are to go to the Mother of the King for special intercession.

1 Kings 2:13 Adonijah, son of Haggith, came to Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon.

Adonijah came to Bathsheba, the mother of King Solomon, to ask a favor of the King.

1 Kings 2:17 He (Adonijah) said, “Please ask King Solomon, who will not refuse you, to give me Abishag the Shunamite to be my wife.”

In the Davidic kingdom, the King does not refuse his mother. Jesus is the new Davidic King, and He does not refuse the requests of his mother Mary, the Queen.

1 Kings 2:18 Bathsheba replied, “Very well, I will speak to the king for you.”

The Queen intercedes on behalf of the King’s people. She is the Queen Mother (of “Gebirah”) Mary is our eternal Gebirah.

1 Kings 2:19-20 19 Then Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king’s mother, who sat at his right. 20 She said, “There is one small favor I would ask of you. Do not refuse me.” The king said to her, “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.”

In the Davidic kingdom the King bows down to his mother and she sits at his right hand. We, as children of the New Covenant, should imitate our King and pay the same homage to Mary our Mother. By honoring Mary, we honor our King, Jesus Christ. Jesus will not refuse his mother.


theotokos-mary-perpetual-virgin-mother-of-god-eastern-orthodox-e1419857941583
Theotokos – Mary, The Mother of God

 Did the Early Church believe Mary to be the Mother of God? Read more here!


A Reflection on Mary the Mother of God

by Archbishop Fulton Sheen

“There is something about motherhood that is synonymous with the maximum of clemency and prevents us from being conquered in advance through despair and remorse by giving us hope in the midst of sins. It is the nature of a human mother to be the intercessor for her little one, asking that the child be dismissed, or saying that he is not understood, or that he should be given another chance, or that, in the future, he will improve. A mother’s heart is always full of pity for the erring and the sinner and the fallen. No child will ever offend a father without offending a mother, but the father concentrates more on the crime, the mother, on the person. Now, as a physical mother watches over an ailing child, so does Mary watch over her erring children. The one word never associated with her is justice. She is only its mirror. As the Mother of the Judge, she can influence His justice; as Mother of Mercy, she can obtain mercy. Twice in history, kings of power promised half their kingdom to a woman: once when a woman solicited a king by her vice (Salome); once when a woman inspired a king by her virtue (Esther)… Through the centuries the Church Fathers have said that Our Lord keeps for Himself half His regency, which is the Kingdom of Justice, but the other half He gives away to His Mother, and this is the Kingdom of Mercy. At the Marriage Feast of Cana, Our Lord said that the hour of His Passion was not yet at hand – the hour when Justice would be fulfilled. But His Blessed Mother begged Him not to wait but to be merciful to those who were in need and to supply their wants by changing water into wine. Three years later, when not the water was changed into wine, but the wine into blood, He fulfilled all Justice, but surrendered half His Kingdom by giving to us that which no one else could give, namely, His Mother: ‘Behold thy Mother.’ Whatever mothers do for sons, that His Mother would do, and more.” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen)


FURTHER RESOURCES

Articles:
In Defense of the Theotokos by Steven Collison
Mary and the Early Fathers by Deacon Keith Fournier
Mother of God Defeats Early Church Heresy by Monica and George Bonina

Books:
Meet Mary: Getting to Know the Mother of God by Mark Miravalle
Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero
Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God
The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

DVD:
Mary The Mother of God by Steve Ray


Footnote
*Dulia is a Greek term meaning the veneration or homage, different in nature and degree from that given to God, that is paid to the saints. It includes, for example, honoring the saints and seeking their intercession with God. Related to dulia is Hyperdulia, the special veneration accorded the Blessed Virgin Mary because of her unique role in the mystery of Redemption, her exceptional gifts of grace from God, and her pre-eminence among the saints. Hyperdulia is not adoration; only God is adored. Such adoration reserved exclusively for God is termed latria, a Greek-rooted Latin term that refers to that form of praise and worship due to God alone.

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