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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mary: Mother of God

So far Marian doctrines are taking 57% of the vote in the poll. I've done some research into the doctrine of Mary as Mother of God. I hope that this will be helpful in helping anyone thinking about converting to Catholicism that stumbles across this blog seeking answers. My hope is that this series will be continued by myself or anyone else that wants to jump in and offer an article.

I know that there are much more informed people than myself reading this blog. If you think that anything I post is in error, PLEASE let me know. Also, I hope that you will add your thoughts and comments.

Mary: Mother of God

In the Nicene Creed we profess:

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.”

In this statement we acknowledge that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully human. He is, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” We do not say that he “became like man” but rather say the he “became man.”

Jesus Christ as fully God and fully human is demonstrated by St. John in John 1: 1-21 when he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” John goes on to say, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John beareth witness of him, and crieth out, saying: This was he of whom I spoke: He that shall come after me, is preferred before me: because he was before me” John 1: 14-15. In John 1: 29 – 30 he says, “The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world. This is he, of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me.”

For centuries some have tried to separate the dual natures of Jesus Christ as man and God. The idea that Jesus Christ exists as two persons, the man Jesus and the divine Son of God is known as the Christological heresy Nestorianism2. The heresy gets its name from Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople from 428 – 4313. In speaking of the Nicene Creed Nestorius, in a letter4 to Cyril of Alexandria said,
"I believe", they say, "also in our Lord Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son". See
how they first lay as foundations "Lord" and "Jesus" and "Christ" and "only
begotten" and "Son", the names which belong jointly to the divinity and humanity. Then they build on that foundation the tradition of the incarnation and resurrection and passion. In this way, by prefixing the names which are common to each nature, they intend to avoid separating expressions applicable to sonship and lordship and at the same time escape the danger of destroying the distinctive character of the natures by absorbing them into the one title of "Son".
Nestorius believed that calling Mary he Mother of God diminished Christ’s humanity and taught that Jesus was two persons, one divine and one human, living in one body. He said, “Holy scripture, wherever it recalls the Lord's economy, speaks of the birth and suffering not of the godhead but of the humanity of Christ, so that the holy virgin is more accurately termed mother of Christ than mother of God4.”

In his first letter4 to Nestorius, to which Nestorius’ letter above was in response, Cyril stated:
We too ought to follow these words and these teachings and consider what is meant by saying that the Word from God took flesh and became man. For we do not say that the nature of the Word was changed and became flesh, nor that he was turned into a whole man made of body and soul. Rather do we claim that the Word in an unspeakable, inconceivable manner united to himself hypostatically flesh enlivened by a rational soul, and so became man and was called son of man, not by God's will alone or good pleasure, nor by the assumption of a person alone. Rather did two different natures come together to form a unity, and from both arose one Christ, one Son. It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by the union, but divinity and humanity together made perfect for us one Lord and one Christ, together marvellously and mysteriously combining to form a unity. So he who existed and was begotten of the Father before all ages is also said to have been begotten according to the flesh of a woman, without the divine nature either beginning to exist in the holy virgin, or needing of itself a second begetting after that from his Father. (For it is absurd and stupid to speak of the one who existed before every age and is coeternal with the Father, needing a second beginning so as to exist.) The Word is said to have been begotten according to the flesh, because for us and for our salvation he united what was human to himself hypostatically and came forth from a woman. For he was not first begotten of the holy virgin, a man like us, and then the Word descended upon him; but from the very womb of his mother he was so united and then underwent begetting according to the flesh, making his own the begetting of his own flesh.
In response to Nestorius’ letter Cyril said,
• he took flesh from the holy virgin and made it his own, undergoing a birth like ours from her womb and coming forth a man from a woman.
• He did not cast aside what he was, but although he assumed flesh and blood, he remained what he was, God in nature and truth.
• We do not say that his flesh was turned into the nature of the godhead or that the unspeakable Word of God was changed into the nature of the flesh. For he (the Word) is unalterable and absolutely unchangeable and remains always the same as the scriptures say. For although visible as a child and in swaddling cloths, even while he was in the bosom of the virgin that bore him, as God he filled the whole of creation and was fellow ruler with him who begot him. For the divine is without quantity and dimension and cannot be subject to circumscription.
Cyril goes on to say,
Therefore, because the holy virgin bore in the flesh God who was united hypostatically with the flesh, for that reason we call her mother of God, not as though the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh (for "the Word was in the beginning and the Word was God and the Word was with God", and he made the ages and is coeternal with the Father and craftsman of all things), but because, as we have said, he united to himself hypostatically the human and underwent a birth according to the flesh from her womb. This was not as though he needed necessarily or for his own nature a birth in time and in the last times of this age, but in order that he might bless the beginning of our existence, in order that seeing that it was a woman that had given birth to him united to the flesh, the curse against the whole race should thereafter cease which was consigning all our earthy bodies to death, and in order that the removal through him of the curse, "In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children", should demonstrate the truth of the words of the prophet: "Strong death swallowed them Up", and again, "God has wiped every tear away from all face".
The Council of Ephesus4 accepted both of Cyril’s letters and condemned that of Nestorius. The Council also accepted twelve anathemas proposed by Cyril. The first of which read, “If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy virgin is the mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh, let him be anathema.” By action of the Council Nestorius was, “stripped of his episcopal dignity and removed from the college of priests.”

Saint Luke provides us with biblical reference to Mary being referred to as the Mother of God in Luke 1: 41 – 455 by saying,
And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel we are told how the angel Gabriel came to the virgin Mary bearing a message from God that she was to bear a son and that he would be the called the Son of God. Notice the significance when Elizabeth calls Mary the, “mother of my Lord” and goes on to say, “because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.”

In our Catholic understanding we do not elevate Mary to the role of goddess by our application of the title “Mother of God” to her. The doctrine’s immediate concern is the maintenance of the belief that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully God. Cyril believed and the Council of Ephesus found that to deny Mary as the “Mother of God” in favor of “Mother of Christ” endangered this understanding of Christ’s dual natures. This opened up the door to distinguish between Christ the man and Christ the divine. Which in turn led to the teaching that the Word did not become flesh but only inhabited within the flesh of the man Christ while keeping a separate nature. John does not tell us that the Word came to live within flesh but tells us that, “the Word was made flesh.”

1. Douay-Rheims Bible Online: Luke 1

2. Wikipedia: Nestorianism

3. Wikipedia: Nestorius

4. Council of Ephesus

5. Douay-Rheims Bible Online: John 1

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