Why Is Mary Important? Part 2: The Divine MaternityAnd the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us: and we saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Is it not blasphemous to call Mary, the "Mother of God"? Can a human being be the mother of almighty God? To be so, wouldn't Mary have to be eternal like God, divine like Himself? There are three Persons in the Blessed Trinity, not four; isn't giving Mary this title giving honour to her that belongs only to God? Is Mary the Mother of God or just the Mother of Jesus's body?
Mary is the mother of the Father's eternal Son. The One who she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Let us examine what the Bible says:
And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb: and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:43)
Who is this "Lord" Elizabeth acclaims under the prompting of the Holy Spirit? The word in Hebrew is "Adonai". It is well known that this word means, "The Lord." What is perhaps not as well known is that "Adonai" is a plural, a majestic plural. It is the language used by say the Queen of England or the Pope when they say such things as, "It has come to our attention...." And the word "our" is the majestic plural used in place of "my".
When the Name of God was given to Moses on Mt Sinai in Exodus 3:14 we know only that it translates as, I Am Who Is. This is a word, the correct translation of which, in Hebrew, has been lost, because for centuries the Jews never said it out of reverence. We know only the consonants, JHWH, given as Yaweh in the Jerusalem Bible.
But whenever the Hebrews saw the name of God in sc
So when Elizabeth said, "the mother of my Lord", which Lord did she have in mind? Greeks always translate Adonai as "Kirios" which always means, "The Lord God".
If we transliterate, Elizabeth is saying, "So whence is it that the mother of the Lord God of Hosts should come to me?"
Elizabeth's declaration was prompted by the Holy Spirit, from love and reverence, the title of Mary, Mother of God, is given by her kinswoman. In this same way was Moses prompted when he cried out, The Lord my God is one God. (Deuteronomy 6:4) In Hebrew this reads, "The Lord Adonai is one Adonai."
Elizabeth knew that the child in the womb of Mary was God. She was "filled with the Holy Ghost"; it was God speaking through her. She was a kind of prophetess, a person who speaks on behalf of God, on behalf of the Holy Spirit.
Elizabeth is not the only one who identifies the child in Mary's womb. The angel Gabriel said to Mary, And he shall be great, the Son of the Most High..." (Luke 1:32) He is referring to the Lord God of Hosts, Adonai Sabaoth.
In the Old Testament the Incarnation of the Word of God in the womb of a virgin was prophesied by Isaiah when he said: Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14) Emmanuel is not his proper name; it is a title. In Matthew 1:23 the meaning of Emmanuel is interpreted as "God with us."
Isaiah prophesied also that this child would be both God and man. For a child is born to us and a son is given to us and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Father of the World to Come, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Both Isaiah and the Angel Gabriel give three titles to the child. He is both human and divine.
But.... can a human be the mother of a Divine Person?
We all have mothers. A mother is a woman who conceives a child, nurtures her child and gives birth to her child. Imagine saying to your mother, "You're only the mother of my body. You're not the mother of my soul!" That would be both silly and disrespectful, because your mother did not create your body either. She conceived and nurtured your body. God created your soul at the moment of conception. Our mothers do not create us; they conceive, generate, nurture and give birth to us.
We say she is MY mother. Not only the mother of my body and not only the mother of my soul. She is MY mother, the mother of the person that I am.
When Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceived, she conceived not just the Body of the Child, not just the Soul of the Child, but the Person of the Child. People said, "That is the mother of Jesus", not the mother of the body of Jesus. She is the mother of the whole Person. And if the Person is a Divine Person, then she is the mother of a Divine Person: she is the Mother of God.
Mary is not, of course, the mother of the Blessed Trinity as a whole.
It was given to her what belonged to no creature that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God. (Huldrych Zwingli)
The Divine Maternity was explicitly defended by the early Christians. St Irenaeus in 190 AD said, The Virgin Mary being obedient to God's Word received from an angel the glad tidings that she should bear God.
The first person to seriously contest the Divine Maternity was Nestorius. Nestorius was the Patriarch of Constantinople and he came up with the notion that because there are two natures in Christ there are also two Persons in Christ, one human and one divine. He argued that Jesus was a common man, born of the Virgin Mary. Then one day in His Baptism, the Divine Person came upon Him. This argument was against the Creeds and the Church opposed him.
The Council of Ephesus declared in 431: It was not that an ordinary man was born of the Virgin Mary on whom afterwards the Word of God descended. What we say is that being united with the flesh from the womb, the Word has undergone birth in the flesh, making the womb His home. This does not mean that the Word made flesh received His Divinity from Mary!
Loving reverence for the Divine Maternity was, in fact, uncontested in Christendom until last century. Yes, I have heard people express their gratitude to the Protestant Reformers for liberating Christians from this pernicious error! But those people are very much mistaken! I have already quoted Huldrych Zwingli. John Calvin also spoke eloquently on the subject:
It cannot be denied that God, in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of His Son, granted her the highest honour. Elizabeth calls Mary, "The Mother of the Lord", because the unity of the Person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man ingenerate in the womb of Mary was, at the same time, the eternal God.
And last but not least we have the thoughts of Martin Luther:
In this work, whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such good things were given her that no-one can grasp them. Not only was Mary the mother of Him who was born in Bethlehem but of Him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father from a mother, in time and at the same time, man and God. (Works of Luther, Concordia Press p572)
My prayer for all of us is that we will properly understand this doctrine so that we, like St Elizabeth, can cry out and proclaim that Jesus is God and Mary is His most beloved Mother.