By Fr. Joseph Francis –
Mary is “Mother of God”
In this chapter we reflect on a Marian trilogy i.e., three consequences that flow from God’s choice of Mary to be the mother of the future Messiah. All the three are privileges of Mary. The first is the title the Church accords Mary as “the Mother of God”. A heretical bishop Nestorius had questioned the according of such a title to Mary. He said Mary could be called Mother of Jesus the human or one who gave birth to Christ. She cannot be called Mother of God. How could the Eternal God have a mother?
St. Cyril of Alexandria in an ecumenical Council which met at Ephesus in 431 AD declared Mary to be the Mother of God because though the natures in Jesus are two i.e., the Divine nature and the human nature, the Person in him is only one and that is the Person God the Son. No one is called as the mother of a human nature but as the mother of the person having that human nature.
Therefore we call Mary as the mother of Jesus who is God and in short form: Mary is the Mother of God. Note carefully that the human body of Jesus was taken from Mary while the human soul in him was created by the Triune God, attributed to the Holy Spirit since it is part of the return process of the human being to God (wherever you notice a return or completion you would always find the presence and attributed activity of the Holy Spirit because within the Trinity also the Holy Spirit is the seal of the Trinity, the Love circle that completes the Inner Trinity).
As explained earlier, the Divine Person in Jesus in no way interfered in the free human choices of Jesus in his humanity which is in every way like us except sin. His emotions were like ours; his human intelligence was limited; he had to walk in faith like all of us and we see this in the struggle of the Garden of Gethsemane & on the cross. But the Person underneath is only God the Son, Person II of the Blessed Trinity and also called the Word. Therefore Mary though directly she is the mother of the human nature in Jesus, is indirectly and very truly Mother of God since one is normally called mother of a person and not a nature!
Mary is the Immaculate Conception: A retrospective reflection is to say that she was the Immaculate Conception. This is a dogma (i.e., a formulated statement of faith which a Catholic is bound to hold) is declared by Pope Pius IX in 1854 AD. The dogma was not off hand declaration but had been thought over for many centuries, disputed among many different theological schools and in course of time clarity came about this teaching and in the end acceding to the wish of so many the Pope Pius IX declared Mary to the Immaculate Conception. What does it mean? It means that Mary was singularly preserved from the taint of Original sin which affects all human beings born into this world. This privilege is accorded to Mary because of what she was destined to be: the Mother of God who became human in her womb in course of time. Does this mean that Mary was outside the pale of redemption by Jesus Christ? Certainly not! She is the first of the redeemed i.e., God foresees the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus and applies the fruits of that redemption before-hand since God is outside time (i.e., not affected by or subject to time) and can act in this fashion. In 1857 AD when Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirou at Lourdes she called herself “the Immaculate Conception” when her name was asked and which the child Bernadette could not even understand!
Very simply the dogma means that there was not even a single moment in Mary’s life when she was cut off from God. From the very first moment of her conception she was in and with God, unlike us who are conceived in Original Sin i.e., we begin our life away from God and become temples of God only at our baptism.
Mary was assumed into heaven totally with her glorified body and soul: A third privilege of Mary is: She was assumed into heaven with her body and soul. This also looks reasonable in the sense that God did not wish the tabernacle in which he was formed and lived 10 months to be destroyed. Further if Jesus is considered as the New Adam (Cf. Rm 5.14+18-19; I Cor 15.45), then Mary is to be considered as the new Eve. Even as Jesus was raised up and ascended into heaven, it is fitting that Mary is also raised up, transformed (glorified) and taken into heaven, not by her power but by the power of God.
There are however two opinions and you are free to hold anyone of them. One is to say that in order to be like her Son Mary died in course of time, was buried and was raised up and taken to heaven; the other opinion is to say that since she was Immaculate conception and no taint of original sin was in her, she did not die but fell asleep (Eastern Churches celebrate the feast of the “dormition” of Mary) and was glorified and taken up to heaven. In a way it is a preview for all of us because we too will be raised from our bodily death to a glorious resurrection on the last day and be assumed into heaven like Mary after the general judgment. This dogma was a result of slow, steady reflection in the Church down the centuries and the liturgical celebration long before the dogmatic declaration by Pope Pius XII in 1950 AD.
We should not separate Mary from Jesus: Let us never forget even for a moment that any praise of Mary is the praise of Jesus and acknowledgement of his divinity as well as his complete humanity. All that Mary is, all her privileges are only because of Jesus and not her own merit apart from Jesus.
This is why Luke puts it beautifully in the mouth of Mary; “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour….for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Lk 2.46-49). Never also forget that we do not worship Mary, for worship belongs to God alone. We venerate Mary and accord her the highest respect and veneration that could be given to a human being and next only to the humanity of Jesus which we adore because the Person underneath is God the son.
Further it is also observed that any error in Christology has a corresponding error in Mariology. Therefore the basis is of Mariology is Christology (CCC 465-6). Perhaps a simple example would clarify this: Nestorians erred in Christology. They spoke of Jesus Christ as if he were two persons i.e., a Divine Person and a human person. The consequence for Mariology would be that Mary would then be mother only of the supposed human person and she cannot be called Mother of God.
On the other hand a denial of the true humanity of Jesus Christ as the Docetists and Gnostics did would also belittle her genuine motherhood. This should be obvious that if Jesus’ human body were to be only a phantom (ghostly) body, there would be no need of a human mother for that. Some Protestants even think that assigning any intercessory role to Mary takes away from the unique role of Mediator to Jesus (I Tim 2.5). It is, they say, a belittling of Jesus. Is this true? CCC 487 categorically states that what we believe about Mary is based on what we believe about Jesus Christ.
Any honour paid to Mary constantly and without fail points to Jesus. All that we say about Mary reflects on what we believe about Jesus. She is what she is because she is the mother of Jesus. Her intercessory role is as a member of the Communion of Saints (Vatican II’s document on the Church LG 49-51). It is subordinate to and in connection with Jesus from his conception in her womb till his death on the cross. Nor did it end with the cross but stretches in time beyond the cross. We see this in the fact she is associated with the apostles and other disciples with whom she was joined in prayer as they prepared for the Pentecost (CCC 964-5).