Explanation of Mary, Mother of God to Catholic and Protestant Christians
There are many people with good intentions that have a problem with Mary being called the Mother of God. They will start off rightly saying that it is important to uphold the dignity of Christ and we should try to find the Christ of Scripture. The thing we must remember however is that everything proclaimed about Mary is to only understand Jesus in a deeper way.
Therefore, in order to clear up any confusion or misconeptions, I will first state what the Catholic Church does NOT teach as some are grossly mislead about what Catholics believe. Then I will define some vocabulary words to lay down a foundation so I can, “give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1Pet. 3:15). Then I will show why a common misconeption that Protestants will state, namely “Mary is the mother of only Jesus’ humanity” is wrong. Only once I have done that can I show the reason why Catholics call Mary, the Mother of God and how one must call Mary, the Mother of God to honor Christ and not to take away from His dignity.
Now before we get started, it is important to note the importance of using reason along with Scripture and the things of our faith. As Scripture itself tells us:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ [emphasis mine] (2Pet. 1:5-8).
So it is important to listen to Scripture and use the intellect that God has given us to interpret His Word guided by His Spirit of truth (Jn. 16:13).
With that being said, I would now like to clear up some misconceptions about what some think the Catholic Church teaches. The Catholic Church is in total agreement that Jesus Christ is truly man. As Scripture says:
Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren [in the NIV translation it says “in every way”], that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people…For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 2:17; 4:15).
The Church condemned the heresy that Jesus is not man very early on in the 1st century as St. John the Evangelist wrote against the Gnostics who said that Jesus did not become a man because matter, the flesh, is evil. St. John tells us this is not only wrong, but from Satan Himself, “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and anantichrist [emphasis mine] (2 Jn. 1:7). The Church along with one of her first bishops in St. John condemned another heresy of the early Church called Docetism which also denied that Jesus was human as early as the early 2nd century. Listen to another one of the Church’s bishops, St. Ignatius of Antioch:
“For I know and believe that He was in the flesh after the Resurrection: and when He came to Peter and his company, He said, ‘Lay hold and handle Me, and see that I am not a bloodless spirit’, and straightaway they touched Him and believed, being joined to His flesh and blood. Therefore also they despised death, nay, were found superior to it; and after His Resurrection He ate and drank with them, as one in the flesh, though spiritually He was united with the Father [emphasis mine](St. Ignatius letter to the Smyrnaeans: Section 1, part 2, written around 110 AD)
Also Catholics profess this emphatically every week in their Creed and it is even a prerequisite to be baptized into the Catholic Church:
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man [emphasis mine]. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church p.50-51)
Therefore, it must be noted that Catholics do not teach that “Jesus was not man.”
Secondly the Church does not teach that Mary is the source of the divine nature of Jesus Christ. She would have to be God and we know that only God the Father is the origin of the Son (not in time of course). As stated in the notes earlier: “This is heresy and was condemned as early as the 4th century through a heretical sect known as the Kollyridians who worshiped Mary as a Goddess and source of the Divine Nature” So these are two things that Catholics are accused of believing/teaching, but they actually do not.
So what do Catholics actually believe? In order to explain this, I have to lay down some terms, namely to define the terms nature and person. A nature answers the question, “what”, “what a thing is”. So for example, you are a girl. I am a boy. We are both human as compared to Lassie who is a dog. We have a human nature, Lassie has a dog nature. Now, a person answers the question, “Who, Who are you?” “You are Taylor and I am Gerard-Marie”. So, if I looked at you, Jennie, and your mom and asked, “What you are, what is your nature? “ You would respond and say, “We are all human girls.” But what makes you different? It is your person or who you are. Who you are is what makes you different from everyone else who shares the same nature with you. So:
· Nature tells what you are
· Person tells who you are
Now, we can start to understand why the following two views are wrong:
1. Mary isthe mother of just the humanity of Jesus
2. Nowhere in Scripture is Mary called, “Mother of God”
To look at the first claim, Mary cannot simply be the mother of the humanity of Jesus because nature does not work like that. Think of a mother who has just had a baby girl. Would you say that she you are truly the mother of that child? Yes, of course you would, but the mother only gave her physical attributes as God gives the soul. We see this in numerous places:
- Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth (Ps. 104:29-30) [emphasis mine];
- Gen. 2:7 with breathing into man the breath of life;
- Mal. 2:10 speaks of each of us being created by God.
Therefore, does that mean that since the mother only gave the girl her human nature and not her soul, that she is not truly her mother? Of course not. A mother doesn’t give birth to “humanity”, but to a person. So too, Mary gave birth to the person of Jesus, not just to His humanity or human nature. The difference is that Jesus was a Divine Person with a human nature (We’ll come back to this in a second), not simply a human person.
The second claim that nowhere in Scripture is Mary called the Mother of God is false. Look at Lk. 1:43. Elizabeth says to Mary, “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Notice she says “the Mother of my Lord.” We know that Jesus is “the son of God” from Lk. 1:35 and Lord is a term equivalent to God as shown throughout all of Scripture. In Gen. 2:4, God is called Lord throughout the creation accounts, in Gen. 12:7, “the Lord appeared to Abram”, in Ex. 32:11, Moses “implored the Lord, His God,” in 1Kgs. 18:39, it even says explicitly, “The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God” and the list goes on and on. There are literally over 300 places in Scripture where the Lord is equated to God. So when Elizabeth says, “How is it that the mother of my Lord shall come to me?” she is saying how is it the Mother of God has come to me. See also Mt. 1:23 and Gal. 4:4. If the Lord is not God, then someone would have to implicitly say that Jesus is not God.
Now, since we have shown that it is unreasonable to say that Mary is only the Mother of Jesus’ humanity and the term and Mother of God is unscriptural; we can finally look at the reason why we must call Mary, the Mother of God. If we do not call Mary the Mother of God, it attacks Jesus’ person. If Mary is not the Mother of God, then either:
1. Jesus is not God and only human in which case, his crucifixion was a gruesome event but had no power to save us, thus we are all doomed to hell (see 1Cor. 15:17-18).
2. Jesus was not always God, but became God sometime in his human life-If this is the case then Jn. 1:14 (“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us”) is a lie because the Word did not take on flesh at the Incarnation, but sometime later. This is false and was a heresy called Adoptionism which the Church condemned in the 4th century
3. Jesus is really two people, a human person and a divine person because Mary is only the mother of the human person. This is what is the logical conclusion of what people who deny Mary as the Mother of God has to lead to. Jesus is not a schizophrenic or two people together in one body; He is the God-man. He is ONE PERSON (WHO) WITH TWO NATURES (Human and Divine). What He is (nature) is both human and divine. Who He is (person) is the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity. He never stopped being WHO HE IS, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, even when he took on a human nature. We see this in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).
This view is a heresy called Nestorianism which was condemned as early as 431 AD at the Council of Ephesus in which the Church proclaimed Mary as Mother of God.
In conclusion, we know that all three of these positions are wrong and do not tell us the truth about the REAL JESUS. We must find the real Jesus because the false Jesus has no power to save. We know that Jesus is God (thus refuting false view #1). We know that Jesus has always been God and did not stop being God as pointed out in the article (thus refuting false view #2). Finally, we know that Jesus is not 2 people, but one person with two natures and did not stop being God when He took on His human nature. Therefore, in order to avoid all 3 wrong conclusions and find the real Jesus, the Church and we, if we are truly to uphold the dignity of Christ, must proclaim Mary as Mother of God. Not because she is the mother of the Divine nature or because she pre-existed God in time, but precisely because God did come into time as man. I hope this clears things up.
 Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 122.