The Mother of God

February 04, 2014Filed under theology#m. div.#sebtsMarkdown source

The following was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Dr. Steve McKinion's Christian Theology II class at .

Topic: Is is appropriate to call Mary the "Mother of God"?

Is it right to call Mary the Mother of God? The historic, orthodox answer is a resounding “yes”—though a clearly qualified and well articulated “yes.” This is not just the historic, orthodox position; it is the right position. Mary was indeed the “mother of God”. She was the mother of Jesus. Jesus was (and is) fully God and fully man, completely and truly, both at once without loss of the full measure of either. He did not cease being totally divine upon his incarnation, but he did assume full humanity. The argument is as simple as it first seems: Mary is the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, therefore Mary is the mother of God.

Evangelicals tend to shy away from following the broader tradition and affirming that Mary is the mother of God. There are many reasons for this, not least our general discomfort with things having to do with Mary born of the over- referencing of Mary in the Catholic tradition and the actual Mariolatry that is too often evinced in Catholic lay practice throughout the world. However, our response ought not be to reject this view, but to speak carefully and clearly and reject what is mistaken while keeping what is true.

It is true that we must be nuanced in our handling of this issue. The word “mother” brings with it implications that we must avoid, and we must remember Jesus’ statements on what it meant to be his mother and brothers and sisters in the gospels (i.e. that those who followed him were those really deserving of the titles). However, simply to set aside the title is to lose important aspects of the reality of the incarnation. If we say that Mary was not the mother of God, we are really saying either that she was not truly the mother of Jesus, or that Jesus was not fully God. Neither of these is a tolerable option.

Now, to those qualifications. When we say that Mary is the mother of God, we are not saying that God in any sense has his source in her. All of the humanity of Jesus finds its source equally in Mary and in the Spirit’s divine intervention —but Mary was created by the Son, rather than the Son originating in her. Mary is the mother of God in Christ, but she is not to the Son exactly as ordinary mothers are to ordinary sons, for Jesus was not an ordinary son.

Nor do we mean that Mary has special prerogatives because of her relationship to Jesus. As noted above, Jesus made clear that he was concerned above all with obedience to the will of God (see e.g. Matthew 12:46–50). Thus, the devotions offered to Mary by our Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters is misplaced, as is the notion that her prayers are somehow more effective in touching Jesus’ heart than are those of the ordinary saint who is seeking to honor God.

These qualifications notwithstanding, we must still be willing and ready to affirm that Mary was in fact the Mother of God. To do otherwise is to reduce in one way or another the mystery of the incarnation. It is not so much that Mary is important here as that affirming her motherhood of God helps us affirm the important points to which we must hold fast in terms the full deity and full humanity of Christ. Mary is important because Jesus humanity came by means of Mary’s body. Everything that it is to be man, Jesus always was from conception, and everything that it is to be God, Jesus always was from the moment of his conception.