Mary, Mother of God

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.

When we honor Mary as the mother of God, we are not merely giving Mary a special place or a special title. To call Mary the mother of God testifies and proclaims the belief that Jesus was indeed divine.

There have been times when some people have had difficulty with this idea that Mary birthed God. One of the early heresies to plague the church was that of Nestorianism, named for the claims of Nestorius, who at the time was bishop of Constantinople. Nestorius declared that Mary was the mother of Jesus, but not the mother of God, that is, that Mary was the mother of Christ’s human side, his human nature, but that she could not be the mother of God. He also eventually said that only Jesus’ human side (Jesus the man, not Jesus the God) suffered and died on the cross. So he wanted Mary to be called “Mother of Christ”, not “Mother of God.”

At the Council of Ephesus, the Church proclaimed that denying that Mary was the Mother of God denied Jesus’ true nature – his complete humanity and his complete divinity. In the words of the Council, “If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is truly God and therefore that the blessed Virgin is truly Mother of God (Theotokos) for she bore according to the flesh him who is the Word from God, let him be anathema.” It was the Council of Ephesus that officially assigned Mary the title of Theotokos, a name that means, “Bearer of God,” or “mother of the Son of God made man.”

None of this is meant to de-emphasize Mary’s role as mother of the human Jesus. At the Mass I attended at Christ the King last evening, Fr. Dale began his sermon by talking about the incredible love of the mother (as well a the pain she goes through giving birth) – quoting the beautiful words of one mother: “Before you were conceived, I loved you. Before you were an hour old, I would give my life for you.”

That love of Mary meant no less to Jesus than a mother’s love means to any of us. Edward Schillebeeckx wrote:

Mary was Jesus’ mother. That means that Jesus, as a man, was brought up by Mary and Joseph. This is, of course, a great mystery and difficult for the human mind to grasp. Nonetheless, we must affirm the dogma that Christ was a true human being and, as such, had to be brought up and educated, in the strictest sense of the word, by his mother. His human qualities and character were formed and influenced by his mother’s virtues. And when we read in Scripture that Christ went around in the land of Palestine doing good, and realize that this human goodness was God’s love, we are bound to acknowledge too that Mary had a maternal share in this Christian interpretation of God’s love. It is common human experience that the mother’s features are recognizable in the child, and this was also true in the case of Mary and Jesus. Mary’s function in the Incarnation was not completed when Jesus was born. It was a continuous task, involving the human formation of the young man, as he grew up from infancy to childhood and from childhood to adulthood. How this was accomplished is hidden from us.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.