Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of God or Man?

Mary's Yes is an act of authentic public saving history. Even as a human act, it is a decisive event of salvation history—the dialogue between God and man takes on flesh.

Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of God or Man?

By Bishop Dennis Panipitchai SDB

Historically the problem of Divine Maternity came up from Christology and the heresy of Nestorius (a Patriarch of Constantinople belonging to the Antiochean School) in 428. According to him the word “Theotokos” (God-bearer) does not apply to Mary, because she is not the mother of God. But she is “Anthropotokos” or “Christotokos” (i.e., Mother of man or Mother of Christ). But the Council of Ephesus in 431 defined the Motherhood of Mary as Divine. After Ephesus the position of the Mother of God (theotokos) is clear in the Christian faith.

To deny the Divine Maternity of Mary is implicit of a denial of the mystery of the Incarnation itself. The Divinity of Christ is the faith-foundation of the Church. The title,“Mother of God” is justified by the following simple reasoning, plain to any child: “Mary is the Mother of Jesus. But Jesus is truly God. Therefore Mary is the Mother of God”.

Since the proclamation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Church has been teaching that Divine Motherhood is central to life of Mary that gives her a special place in creation. Her Divine Motherhood is the Fundamental Principle of Mariology. By “Fundamental Principle” is meant a primary truth with which other truths are logically connected in some way. The relation between God and man is not merely creative but is God’s Self-communication to man. This is what we call Redemption or Salvation and is addressed to every spiritual creature. The climax of this redemption is Christ.

It is within this context that Mary’s Divine Motherhood is placed and therefore we should not perceive it as a mere biological fact.

Mary’s Divine Motherhood involves a personal relationship. On her part it demanded total acceptance to which, scripture tells us, Mary acquiesced unconditionally. This consent of faith is not only part of her personal autobiography but also forms part of universal salvation history, that is, her “Yes” does not concern herself alone but concerns the whole human race. To say that “Yes” to God she needed God’s help, no doubt. Yet, that “Yes” needed her personal freedom and act. Herein we see how Grace and freedom do not exclude each other. Ultimately the “Yes” proved that through Mary’s free acceptance in faith God has brought about the salvation of the world. At the Annunciation the Angel asked Mary to give her consent to three things:

1. to become the Mother of God, the redeemer,

2. to become the spiritual mother of all men,

3. to cooperate with the redeemer in the work of human salvation.

Mary gave her consent fully and without reserve and immediately became the Mother of God, the redeemer. Therefore, the Divine Motherhood is not only a privilege of Mary; it was destined for the salvation of all men. According to Scripture she is the mother of the Incarnate Word through her free obedience in faith. It is an act of authentic public saving history. Even as a human act, it is a decisive event of salvation history—the dialogue between God and man takes on flesh. As mother of God she is the most perfectly redeemed.

Divine maternity is the greatest privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is created to be the mother of God. It is a matter of common knowledge that all other prerogatives of Mary, in the actual order of God’s predestination, follow from the basic fact that she was chosen from all eternity to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of the living God. The root and source of all her titles is her maternity. It is this that makes her incomparably great. There is evidence that at least about the year 250, Our Lady had been hailed as the Mother of God in the Liturgical prayer of the Egyptian Church.

Saint Thomas Aquinas says, “From that she is the mother of God, has a certain infinite dignity from the infinite good, which is God.” After the Hypostatic Union, the Divine Maternity is that which is supreme in the supernatural order. God makes her who is beautiful and without blame His mother. Her motherhood is the consecration of her whole personality to God. There are two points in which Mary’s divine maternity differs from mere human motherhood:

1. It is a relationship entered into with a person who is eternal.

2. Christ’s physical dependence on his mother is based on a previous spiritual union between the pre-existing person of the son and the person of the mother.

Divine Maternity, therefore, is necessarily based on a previous spiritual union. It is precisely this spiritual union that is the innermost essence of the grace of Divine Maternity. We may ask at what moment the grace of divine maternity was bestowed on Mary – a question that still remains to be decided.

Since God’s choice, of course, is eternal, it is in this sense that Mary’s person was consecrated to God before the beginning of time. We derive from the revealed fact of the Immaculate Conception the certainty that the grace of Divine Motherhood was bestowed on Mary at the moment of her conception. A mother is the one who transmits life to her children. Mary is spiritual mother of man because she transmits to him the divine life merited and given by Christ. This radical motherhood is perfected on Calvary when Mary is given as mother to the disciple who represents all the faithful disciples.

No one but God could choose his Mother. Mary is the one who receives the greatest grace and makes the most perfect response to the word of God. Mary has no weapon. She is the Mother and she has only her son. The Church teaches that her place is above that of the angels and saints and she is very appropriately called their Queen, because she is God’s mother. By the grace and mercy of God, our prayer to her, the mother of God, will not go unanswered. By God’s will, Jesus came to us through Mary. He is the font of all grace. She will lend her maternal aid to us, to bring us closer to her Son in faith and hope and love.

The redeemer came to us through Mary. At His coming, in the fullness of time, she became His mother. In seeking to grow in love for him, we can be aided by the reflection that every mother loves those who love her son. This will lead to the further comforting assurance that the Mother of God will use our love of her son as an added motive to make us the beneficiaries of her powerful intercession with her son and, through Him, with the Father.

(On January 1 the Universal Church celebrated the feast of Mary the Mother of God and therefore the whole month is especially dedicated to her. The article above theologically and logically establishes that Divine Motherhood. Writer Bishop Dennis Panipitchai SDB is the Auxiliary Bishop of Miao, Arunachal Pradesh. Views expressed are of his own.)

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