01 January 2013

Defining "Mary, Mother of God"

Doing my Dominican Duty: providing historical/intellectual ammo for any struggle you might have with fundamentalist relatives over the holidays!

The Solemnity of the Mary, Mother of God, celebrates the decision taken at the Council of Ephesus (431) against the teaching of the Patriarch, Nestorius, who held that a human person could not be said to have given birth to God. The Patriarch of Alexander, Cyril, argued that Mary, as the chosen instrument of the Incarnation, conceived and gave birth to the Word, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, one person with two natures. Mary, then, is properly understood to be “Theotokos,” God-bearer.

Cyril wrote (in part) to Nestorius:

"And since the holy Virgin brought forth corporally God made one with flesh according to nature, for this reason we also call her Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh.

For In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God, and he is the Maker of the ages, coeternal with the Father, and Creator of all; but, as we have already said, since he united to himself hypostatically human nature from her womb, also he subjected himself to birth as man, not as needing necessarily in his own nature birth in time and in these last times of the world, but in order that he might bless the beginning of our existence, and that that which sent the earthly bodies of our whole race to death, might lose its power for the future by his being born of a woman in the flesh. And this: In sorrow you shall bring forth children, being removed through him, he showed the truth of that spoken by the prophet, Strong death swallowed them up, and again God has wiped away every tear from off all faces. For this cause also we say that he attended, having been called, and also blessed, the marriage in Cana of Galilee, with his holy Apostles in accordance with the economy. We have been taught to hold these things by the holy Apostles and Evangelists, and all the God-inspired Scriptures, and in the true confessions of the blessed Fathers."

Cyril published twelve anathemas against Nestorius. Cyril's letters and his anathemas became the primary texts from which the council fathers drew up their canons for the council.

The first anathema reads: “If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, The Word was made flesh] let him be anathema.”

The fifth anathema reads: “If anyone shall dare to say that the Christ is a Theophorus [that is, God-bearing] man and not rather that he is very God, as an only Son through nature, because the Word was made flesh, and has a share in flesh and blood as we do: let him be anathema.”

As is the case with all Marian dogma and doctrine, we are immediately directed back to Christ as our Lord and Savior. No Marian dogma or doctrine is declared or defined in isolation from Christ. She is always understood to be an exemplar for the Church and a sign through which we come to a more perfect union with Christ. Though our Blessed Mother is rightly revered and venerated, she is never worshiped as if she were divine. She is rightly understood as the Mediatrix of All Graces in so far as she mediated, through her own body, the conception and birth of Christ, who is Grace Himself. In no sense are we to understand our Blessed Mother as the source of grace. Rather, she was and is a conduit through which we benefit from the only mediation between God and man, Christ. In her immaculate conception and assumption into heaven, our Blessed Mother is herself a beneficiary of Christ's grace. As such, she cannot be the source of our blessedness, our giftedness in Christ.

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1 comment:

  1. Two oversimple --but true :)! -- comments.

    If the (East & West) Catholic doctrine of grace includes theosis, the reason for the Incarnation in some of the Fathers, then who would be more deified than the Theotokos, a "god" by participation? So-called "hyperdulia" makes sense if and where theosis (regardless of what you call it)informs the meaning of grace. In Catholic/Orthodox world, God is "generous" with divinity. Saints abound. Protestantism, paranoid about idolatry, prefers a God who is "stingy" with it.

    When Leonardo Boff proposed Mary as hypostatically united to the Holy Spirit, he was theologically wrong but psychologically and historically right. For most Christians, the faceless Spirit was functionally replaced by the Virgin Mother. Mohammed's Koran mistakes the Trinity as Father, Son and Mother (5:116). Again, bad dogma but an understandable impression.