Catholicism Explained - Mary the Mother of God

Catholicism Explained is back! We're starting on a full-fledged discussion of Marian Dogmas, so let's buckle our seatbelts and dive in. (Look at that. A mixed metaphor. How eloquent am I.)

If you'd like to read previous Catholicism Explained posts, here are the links:


Mary, Mother of God

Mary and Jesus:

This is the most basic of Marian dogmas, the reason Mary is such a huge part of Catholic life. She got to be the mother of God! Carry Him in her womb, cradle Him in her arms, steady His first steps! No one else in the history of the world ever did anything so epic. Her vocation was 100% unique, and so grandiose it outshines the legacy of even the greatest saints.

As Jesus' mother, Mary was closer to Him than any other human. She loved and knew Him in a way no one else ever could. As such, she is honored above all other creatures.

Which brings us to a point that should probably be made sooner or later: Catholics honor Mary; they do not worship her. Worship is reserved for God alone. Honor, on the other hand, is something we may (and often should) give to God's creatures. Everybody honors somebody, whether that somebody be a parent, a government official, or a historical hero.

The honor Catholics give Mary is just like the honor we give any admirable person - except it's magnified a couple of thousand times, because Mary's a couple of thousand times more deserving than anyone else. :)

Honoring Mary doesn't take anything away from God; rather, it glorifies Him. (I wrote a post explaining this a while back.) Catholics know that Mary's merits are not her own; rather, her splendor is a reflection of God's, just as the moon's light is but a reflection of the sun.

Scripture

Mother Mary and Angel:

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is God. The truth of Jesus' divinity is the basis of Christianity, the most important belief a Christian can hold. It's essential - anyone who doesn't believe Jesus is God can't call himself a Christian.

Scripture also makes it abundantly clear that Mary is Jesus' mother:

"And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus." - Luke 1:31

Mary is referred to as Jesus' mother multiple times throughout the Gospels:

"And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus said unto him, 'They have no wine.'" - John 2:3-5

"When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, 'Woman, behold, thy son!'" - John 19:26 

To state the argument as a logical syllogism, then:

A. Mary is the mother of Jesus.
B. Jesus is God.
C. Therefore, Mary is the mother of God.

Elizabeth was the first one to acknowledge this fact at the Visitation:

"And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" - Luke 1:43

Church Fathers

Icon in an Orthodox Church: “The first steps of Jesus”:

The above understanding has always been that of the Catholic Christian Church. Early Christians referred to Mary as "theotokos," which means "God-bearer," and early Church fathers used this term and concept in their writings:

"The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God." - St. Irenaeus, A.D. 189

"The Word begotten of the Father from on high, inexpressibly, inexplicably, incomprehensibly, and eternally, is he that is born in time here below of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God." - St. Athanasius, A.D. 365 

"What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose?" - St. Ambrose of Milan, A.D. 377

(The above quotations, along with many others, can be found in this article.)

Significance

MOST HOLY NAME OF MARY: Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, for all who celebrate the glorious Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she may obtain your merciful favor. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.:

So why is Mary being the mother of God such a big deal? Why do Catholics harp on it so? Well, as this excellent article from Catholic Answers explains, to reject the fact that Mary is the mother of God is to reject that Jesus is God.

Here's why: Jesus is one person, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. When He became man, He took on a second nature, but He did not take on a second personhood. He remains totally the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, although He now has both a human nature and a divine nature. (Jesus being one person with two natures is one of those teachings, isn't it? - you take it for granted as you grow up, and then one day when you sit there and think about it, it's mind-blowing.)

Some argue that Mary can't be the mother of God by saying that she is only the mother of Jesus' divine nature - but if you compare that view with the fact that Jesus is one person with two natures, it doesn't work. If Jesus was two different people, then it could be that Mary is the mother of the human Jesus and not the mother of the divine Jesus; but as it is, there's only one Jesus. Mary is the mother of all of Him, not just His human nature.

That doesn't mean, of course, that Mary provided Jesus with His divine nature. My blue-eyed mom is entirely the mother of my brown-eyed brothers, even though she didn't provide them with their brown eyes. Nor does this dogma mean that Mary existed before the Trinity or anything ridiculous like that. It simply means that when God became man, He took on a human mother who was just as dear to Him as our mothers are to us.

That's a beautiful thought, isn't it? God having a mother? He knows what it's like to fall asleep in her arms, to run to her for comfort, to help her around the house. He really is, as St. Paul said, "a man like us in all things but sin."


Well, that wraps it up for today! What do you think? Comments, questions, concerns, corrections? Do you have any ideas for improving this feature?

Comments

  1. Amazing! Explained yet again to the fullest beauty, Miss Agnes! Magnifico!

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  2. I love Mary :)

    Beautiful post, Lucy Agnes!

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  3. These posts are developing nicely- issues broken into sections, links to past posts and other articles, references. Those are all very important for informative posts!

    I was suspecting that you would bring up the disclaimer that Catholics honour Mary, rather than worship her. I’ve heard of one Catholic being so fed up with this notion that they actually went about in a shirt that read ‘no, we don’t worship Mary’. So Catholics don’t see Mary as being equal with God, I understand that much. But I think it’s the honour being so magnified that creates the confusion.
    This post, along with the other one you linked, speaks of reflections and honouring Mary as being one way to Honour God. I think I get what you are saying, that feeling wonder over the creation is indeed a way to worship the Creator.
    But I’m on the outside of Catholicism, looking in. I see the world through different glasses. I hope you will forgive me, because I feel accusatory in saying this, but although I see glory to God in the Catholic Church, I also see a lot of glory to Mary. From where I’m standing, sometimes it gets in the way. I think I see why someone would honour Mary, but some of the honour given to Mary looks very different to someone who isn’t Catholic.

    As for Mary being the Mother of God- to me it’s a little more complicated.
    You’ve taught me something new. I didn’t realise that denial of Mary being the mother of God would be considered denial of Jesus’ divinity. For the record, I completely agree that Mary is the mother of Jesus, and that Jesus is God. I can see that from the bible, and so we share common ground with that (cheers!). But there is a complication in the argument that Mary is the mother of God. Here is how I see it: to have a mother indicates both a beginning point and a figure in authority. But God the Spirit had no beginning, he always was, always will be, always is. God the Father has no one over him, He is ultimate authority. Yet God the Son had a biological beginning and was obedient to his parents. As I said, it’s a little more complicated.

    I wanted to make this comment short and sweet. No such luck. Ah well. I’m still learning a lot here, and perhaps my comments will bring clarification from the other side (I hope?). And might I say again that this blog series is starting to look so professional? I was wondering if you could add some historical notes too, with reference. Church history fascinates me to no end, so anything would be appreciated.

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    Replies
    1. Well, like Miss Agnes said, Mary did not 'make' Jesus' Divine nature by being His Mother. She is the mother of all of Him, but she did not begin all of him. I always put it like this - there is a statement in a prayer from the Chaplet Of Diving Mercy that I always used to help me understand how whole Jesus is and yet two-natured:
      'Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity'. Body and blood began in Mary, but the Divinity already was. The Soul and Divinity were united with the body and blood by God inside Mary when Jesus as a Human first began.

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    2. Sorry it's taken me awhile to get back to this! :) I've been away at my grandparents' for the last few days, soo...:)

      Thanks for the comment, Blue! I'm glad you think this series is improving. :) And don't worry about sounding accusatory - you're always very polite and bring up probing questions that add a lot to the discussion.

      I can see how it could seem, from the outside, that Mary is honored too much in Catholicism. To be honest, I sometimes worry (or at least used to worry) that I focus too much on Mary, rather than on Jesus. There's a quote from St. Maximilian Kolbe that always helps me with this: "Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did." While it's certainly possible to make Mary into an idol, the danger of that happening isn't as prominent as it might seem, because Mary always leads you to Jesus. She never, ever takes any glory for herself. If you come to her, she brings you to her Son.

      Yes, I agree with what you're saying about how God the Spirit and God the Father and even God the Son have always existed from all eternity and have no one over them. As I understand it, to say Mary is the mother of the Trinity would be a heresy. (I'm not 100% certain of that, but that's what it seems to me.) As Darin said (and I really like your comment, Darin!), Mary did not give Jesus His beginning, only His human nature. And in doing so she became His mother - the mother of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who is God. Does that help at all? It really is a mystery, and I don't think we can ever wrap our heads totally around it. :)

      I love your long comments! :) And adding historical notes with references is a great idea. Yes, Church history is just so awesome! I'll try to implement more of it into tomorrow's post.

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