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:
The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
Is the Eucharist Literal or Symbolic?
The Sacrament of Confession
Why Do We Need Priests?
Mary, Mother of God
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.
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
"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.
"And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" - Luke 1:43
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.)
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?