Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mother of God vs. Mother of Jesus

Today is my parent's 40th wedding anniversary (God grant them many more years together) and so when I got home from my church, my parents informed me of what went on with their service. I think my parents paid extra special attention since I'm sure that they were mindful of all the blessings and headaches (i.e. me) that have come with 40 years of marriage. Anyway, they mentioned to me that the theme of this the fourth Sunday in Advent was about Mary and Elizabeth. (On a side note, Fr. Peters over at Pastoral Meanderings has a blog on his flock's response to Mary in today's service) I responded that in our church, the Sunday before Christmas is referred to as the Sunday of Genealogy where we read the forefathers and foremothers of Christ our God, born in the flesh and that we stress that God did not simply appear but became as we are to make us what He is. I then asked a question, because I was genuinely curious: Did the pastor refer to Mary as "Mother of God" or "Mother of Jesus?" Nearly instantly, my parents responded "Mother of Jesus." I had to shake my head in disbelief and responded with a typical shockingly "What?" My parents thought I was making a big difference over nothing. But then again, I wonder how many Orthodox (cradle and convert alike) would also assume that there is no fundamental difference in the terminology.

I would never, ever accuse Lutherans of holding a heretical Christology, never. Then again, I think, as with the case of my parents, they see (and probably many Lutheran clergy) that there is no difference in "Mother of God" versus "Mother of Jesus" even though there is quite a difference in those two descriptions. I then responded that to call Mary the Mother of Jesus is to make a Nestorian distinction between the Logos and the man, Jesus. My parents, in all honesty, did not know what Nestorian means.

As far as I understand the term (and I have been reading +Fr. John Meyendorff's book, The Person of Christ in Eastern Thought lately so that sort of helps), a Nestorian understanding of the person of Jesus Christ arises when one believes that there can be no union of the divine and the created together in one substance since that would presuppose that as the mortal part grows old and dies that hence God would die as well, which, of course is impossible. Also, Nestorius said that in His very nature, God could not assume that which He is by nature not (i.e. creator assuming the created). Hence, Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ only and gave her the epithet "Christotokos" which is Greek for "Mother of Christ." Now, to be fair to Nestorius (though he was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.), and like most other heretics who were without doubt pious men, he probably just felt that the idea of Mary giving birth to the Divine God with human attributes would somehow rob the Godhead of the glory that is due to Him. So Nestorius' solution to his own problem was that there were in fact two persons, the Divine Logos and the human Christ and Mary was the mother of the latter.

Of course orthodox Christian doctrine (notice I use the small "o" deliberately to refer to Christian confessions such as Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and some other Protestant sects as well as the Orthodox) is that Jesus Christ was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (Nicene Creed) and thus he is both God and man in one union. There is only one person, Jesus Christ, but there is present two substances, which, clarified by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 which were neither commingled nor confused but contained in one hypostatsis, i.e. the God-man, Jesus Christ.

But let's get back to Mary. Lutherans, it seems, will object to the term Theotokos for Mary because it assumes that Mary is supplying the Divine chromosome, so to speak. Of course, this is not Orthodox theology or belief. But to say that she only gave birth to a human is to deny the reality of the incarnation. Again, Lutheran theology, especially as it is contained in the Book of Concord which are the Lutheran confessions, is very orthodox (again, notice the small "o") on this point since it explicitly says that Mary gave birth to ONE person, the God-man Jesus Christ. Thus, Lutherans do accept the tenets of the Council of Ephesus, but, according to them, the only reason they do is because they say it agrees with Scripture (that's an argument for another time).

It's easy for me to shake my head in disbelief when I hear Lutherans call Mary only the Mother of Jesus since I know that they are not heretical in this regard. But when you insist that there is a vital difference in calling her Mother of God versus Mother of Jesus, it will often result in a "it makes no difference" or "well, that's your way of looking at it." I think, though, that if people (and I mean all Christians who accept the incarnation as an article of faith handed down by the Church) really understood that one description does damage to the understanding of why God became incarnate, without which we could not have possibly been saved, then I think the terminology will take care of itself. The only remedy, for Lutherans and Orthodox alike, is continued catechesis and insistence that the two titles do NOT mean the same thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment