Mother of God?

Queen of Heaven

One of the titles for the Blessed Virgin Mary is “Mother of God”.

A reader has raised an objection to this title in the Mary’s role as co-redemptrix thread, so here is a post defending and advocating the use of such a term. Our Protestant brothers see the title as an inappropriate and incorrect one, which takes glory away from Christ (or at least this is how I understand their position). Here, I offer my humble reassurance that this is not the case at all, and that it in fact ensures and increases the glory of God in our eyes. I should also point out that the title does not mean that Mary pre-existed or created God (which would be absurd, since she is a creature).

The official proclamation of the Marian title traces its history back to the council of Ephesus, which met in 431 AD. The council was convened in response to the heresy of Bishop Nestorius, who rejected the title Mother of God, or “Theotokos” (“God bearer”).

The root problem with the Nestorian heresy is that it divides Christ’s humanity and divinity into two separate beings, thus making the incarnation into some sort of a “slipping into a man suit” idea, where God drove this fleshly vehicle, and was not actually born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, died and buried. To me, that would lessen the glory that is proper to Christ.

Now, the Catholic Church teaches that the incarnate Christ was 100% man, and 100% God. The thing is, the Holy Spirit infused Christ’s soul into his body to make a single person, not divided beings – this has to be stressed; Christ is a single person. Once a soul is infused into the body, or incarnated, that becomes the natural state – our spiritual being is inextricably bound to our bodily being. That’s why our mothers are not just mothers of our flesh, but mothers of our persons, body and soul together, even though our souls did not originate from them. Motherhood – and fatherhood – is then a relational office, where the whole being of a person is entrusted to the maternal care. Thus, it reveals the greatness of both motherhood and God’s vulnerable trust in His creature. To me, this serves to increase the glory of Christ, and testifies to the dignity of motherhood. Think of it for a moment – an Immortal and Almighty God made vulnerable through incarnation and entrusted to a virgin’s maternal care!

Another important point is that Christ’s incarnation affirms the ontological (the in-itself-) goodness of matter itself, and of our flesh. The Gnostic heresy would have said that our destiny is to be separated from our prison, the evil flesh. Christian theology would say that our destiny is to be united again with our body, which is good in itself, and point to Christ who took on our flesh in his person. Meditate on the incredible significance of this for a minute – Christ, God himself, has taken on our flesh to his being for all of eternity!

This is why Christ was resurrected and united with his body. The separation of the soul from the body in death is an unnatural state, and so we too are eventually to be resurrected and united with our bodies, destined to heaven or hell. We are to be in our being – body and soul – for all of eternity. 

Mary always serves to point people to Christ, and this is no exception. The Marian title serves to uphold the divinity of Christ, and the unity of His human and divine nature in His personhood. 

Now, other than the above, there are a couple of very good reasons why our Protestant brothers should embrace this title openly.

First is that it’s Biblical. Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43). Her Lord, of course, being our Lord and God also, we see that the Holy Spirit reckons she’s the Mother of God also. I’d say that’s a pretty trustworthy endorsement! 

The second reason is that the protestant par excellence, Martin Luther himself, endorsed the title of Mother of God. Luther, unbeknown to his protestant brothers today, had a surprisingly profound devotion to Mary, leading him to say, “God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary’s Son, and that Mary is God’s mother…She is the true mother of God and bearer of God” (On the Councils and the Church, 1539). Couldn’t have said it better myself.

References 

Dave Armstrong (2003). Martin Luther’s Devotion to Mary.

Dean Mischewski (2002). Mary.

Mark Wheeler (1994). Nestorianism.

Robert Spencer (1996). Knowing the Gnostics.

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