Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker

5/11/2011 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Mary's title of Mother of God insures Christ's true place as the unique Son of God and Son of Man

Worship of Jesus Christ as 'God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father' is therefore a unity with prayerful devotion to his mother. With her and through her we affirm and bow before the one who is God made man. Those who deny Marian devotion sometimes sincerely object because they believe devotion to Mary detracts from proper worship of her Son. But this is to misunderstand the Church's teaching and practice.

Icon of Mary, the Mother of God

Icon of Mary, the Mother of God

Highlights

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

5/11/2011 (3 years ago)

Published in Christian Saints & Heroes

Keywords: Mary, Theotokos, Hail Mary, Nicea, converts, Fr Dwight Longenecker


GREENVILLE, SC (Catholic Online) - I have long recognised the unique vocation of Our Lady, called to the highest honour among all created beings. It is a fact of history that, if true honour is not paid to her as the Mother of God, people put our Lord in her place as the highest of creation rather than adoring him as God Incarnate. (Rt Rev Mgr Graham Leonard from The Path to Rome)

The former Anglican Bishop of London Graham Leonard summed up the reasoning for the church's most ancient title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Put simply,  Mary's title of Mother of God insures Christ's true place as the unique Son of God and Son of Man.

The title Mother of God in Greek is theotokos which literally means God-bearer. It is the title used by the Greek fathers from Origen in the early third century, and some even think it can be traced to Hippolytus who died in the year 236.  This term for the Virgin Mary was used increasingly by the early Church, but in the early fifth century it was attacked by the heretic Nestorius, who wanted to replace the term theotokos with Christotokos or 'Christ-bearer.' Nestorius, in a sincere attempt to avoid an earlier heresy called Apollinarianism, asserted that there were two separate persons conjoined in Jesus Christ. Thus the Blessed Virgin Mary in giving Jesus human flesh could be the 'Christ-bearer' but not 'God bearer.'

Nestorius was opposed by St Cyril of Alexandria and the controversy was referred to a Council of Rome in the year 430. Pope Celestine condemned Nestorius' teaching, and in the meantime the emperor arranged a General Council to meet at Ephesus. It met in the summer of 431 and condemned Nestorius and therefore re-affirmed the already ancient title theotokos. What is clear from the controversy surrounding Nestorius is that the title theotokos is not primarily an exaltation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but a defense of orthodox Christology. The Council of Ephesus upheld a fully orthodox view of Jesus, and to do this they re-affirmed the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary which supported the fullest understanding of Christ's divinity.

Just twenty years after the Council of Ephesus another council was held, this time in the city of Chalcedon. On 8 October 451 the council opened and dealt with another heresy called Eutychianism. As a result of the council the Definition of Chalcedon was drawn up. This definition re-affirmed the basic definition of Christ's divinity given at the Council of Nicea in 325. It expressly repudiated those who deny the title theotokos for the Blessed Virgin Mary and went on to re-assert the orthodox position that Our Lord was 'One Person in Two Natures which are united unconfusedly, unchangeably indivisibly inseparably'.

I have gone into a bit of detail about the events of the fifth century for a specific reason. One of the things which draws all Christians together is the fact that all who call themselves orthodox look to these first councils of the church for their definition of true belief about the united manhood and divinity of Jesus Christ. The Definition of Chalcedon, based on the earlier definitions of Ephesus and Nicea, is looked to as a test of orthodoxy not only amongst the Catholic Church and most of the Eastern Churches, but also amongst Protestant believers. However, if Protestants claim that their orthodoxy stems from these early councils, there is a problem.

The Council of Ephesus specifically upheld the title of theotokos  for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Council of Chalcedon expressly repudiated those who would deny Mary that title. Therefore, those modern day Christians who deny Mary the title of theotokos are actually condemned by the very councils they look to for support. One might argue that the title theotokos was affirmed by the councils as a separate measure, but it wasn't. It was affirmed as an integral part of their defense of orthodox Christology.

The historical record shows that devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God developed at the same time that the orthodox understanding of Jesus as the God-Man. Graham Leonard's pithy statement explains why the two beliefs developed together. As Jesus came to be understood as God incarnate it became clear that Mary, as his human mother, must have been specially preserved from sin by God. This special purity made her the highest of created beings. Devotion to her was therefore totally intertwined with submission and obedience to her Son, the incarnate God.

This unity of man and woman is hinted at in the Scriptures' doctrine of marriage. From Genesis through to the teachings of Our Lord in the gospels and the teachings of St Paul, man and woman are said to be 'one flesh'. In I Corinthians Paul re-affirms the unity that exists between man and woman. 'For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (I Cor. 11:8-12) In the divine economy man and woman are interdependent and in the mystery of the redemption God chose for both Jesus and his mother to play interdependent roles.

There are some non-Catholics who would therefore grant Mary the title of theotokos for theological reasons, but they still do not practice any form of Marian devotion. This is illogical and truncated because in every other aspect of our faith our worship, devotion and adoration are inspired and united to the doctrines we profess. How can one grant Mary the title 'Mother of God' and yet refrain from using the ancient prayer in which we say, 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and in the hour of our death'?

Worship of Jesus Christ as 'God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father' is therefore a unity with prayerful devotion to his mother. With her and through her we affirm and bow before the one who is God made man. Those who deny Marian devotion sometimes sincerely object because they believe devotion to Mary detracts from proper worship of her Son. But this is to misunderstand the Church's teaching and practice.

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is constantly united with the worship of her Son. 'Woman is not independent of man nor man of woman.' (I Cor. 11:11) This unity of belief and practice cannot be separated, and just as the early church taught, those who deny that Mary is theotokos also impugn the true divinity of her Son-even if they are sincerely unaware that they are doing so.

The famous Catholic convert Kimberly Hahn has said, 'There are three things that keep evangelicals away from the Catholic Church-Mary, Mary and Mary.' While it is true that evangelicals do have a strong resistance to Marian devotion, Catholics should not apologise or back away from the issue. Instead it should be shown that devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has been an integral part of orthodox Christianity from the very earliest days of the Church.

It should be pointed out that the early Church fathers actually considered a proper view of Christ to be dependent on the proper understanding of Mary's identity. Furthermore, those who object to Catholic practice should be reminded that the vast majority of Christians down through the ages and around the world today incorporate the Marian dimension into their Christian lives in a daily loving devotion. Most importantly, it should be stressed that devotion to Mary is not something different than their already keen love for Christ; instead devotion to the Mother of God is a fuller experience of His everlasting love.

-----

Fr.Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, and chaplain to St Joseph's Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his website at www.dwightlongenecker.com

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2014
Peace:
That the Lord may grant peace to those parts of the world most battered by war and violence.
World Mission Day: That World Mission Day may rekindle in every believer zeal for carrying the Gospel into all the world.



Comments


More Christian Saints & Heroes

Saint Teresa of Avila: Virgin and Doctor of Prayer Watch

Image of St. Teresa of Avila

By Deacon F.K. Bartels

St. Teresa's whole life is one of simple beauty and fervent purpose; it is a life contained in Christ. She shows us how to live the same way through Prayer.On reading from St. Teresa, a deep feeling of her love for His Majesty envelops us; we begin, in a very real, ... continue reading


Femine Genius, Holiness and St. Teresa of Avila Watch

Image of Teresa of Avila was a mystic as well as an active and effective disciple of Jesus Christ. She demonstrates that the two expressions of the one Christian Way of Life can and should work together in our own experience - no matter what out vocation or state in life. This insight lies at the heart of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council's on the Universal Call to Holiness.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his ... continue reading


From St Francis of Assisi to the Faithful: We Must be Simple Watch

Image of St. Francis of Assisi

By St. Francis of Assisi

We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be simple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God's sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all ... continue reading


St Therese of the Child Jesus: In the Heart of the Church I Will Be Love Watch

Image of Perhaps one of the most beloved saints of the Catholic Church,Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus (1873-1897) had wisdom beyond any formal learning which came from the depth of her interior life

By St Therese of Lisieux

O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its ... continue reading


The Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael: Archangels and Powerful Spiritual Allies Sent by Love and for Love Watch

Image of

By Deacon F. K. Bartels

The Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us - The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'angels' is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition (328). Charged by God to ... continue reading


Pope Cornelius and Bishop Cyprian are Examples for this Age of Martyrs Watch

Image of The blessed Cyprian suffered martyrdom on 14 September, under the emperors Valerian and Gallienus, but in the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory for ever. Amen.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

God and his angels look down upon us; Christ, who looks on as we do battle in the contest of faith. What great dignity and glory are ours, what happiness to struggle in the presence of God and to be crowned by Christ our judge. Let us be armed with a great ... continue reading


Feast of St Augustine of Hippo: Defender of Truth Watch

Image of St. Augustine:

By F. K. Bartels

If there is any message which can be drawn from St. Augustine's life, and there are many, it is the message of repentance and conversion. This is a message the world desperately needs to hear today. It is one of heartfelt dedication to Christ as Master, Teacher and ... continue reading


Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Reminds Us that 'Love Is Sufficient of Itself' Watch

Image of Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

By Deacon F.K. Bartels

It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the ... continue reading


Saint Clare Shows Us How The Path of Simplicity Can Lead To A Greater Love for Christ

Image of

By Deacon F. K. Bartels

We learn from St. Clare both the importance of giving one's life to Christ as well as the sublime, eternal rewards of doing so. When we leave the fleeting, temporary created objects of the world behind, no longer placing our trust in them or seeing them as inordinately ... continue reading


Fr. Paul Schenck on Edith Stein: Daughter of Israel, Daughter of the Church Watch

Image of St. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, Edith Stein, Catholic feminist, philosopher and martyr of Auschwitz: Throughout her life, Edith never renounced or denounced her Jewish identity. Rather, as demonstrated in her memoir, her participation in Jewish customs at home, her letter to the Pope and in her correspondences, she spoke of her Jewish roots as intrinsic to her self-identification, to her views and even to aspects of her vocation

By Fr. Paul Chaim Benedicta Schenck

August 9 is the Memorial of St. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, Edith Stein, Catholic feminist, philosopher and martyr of Auschwitz. In this sketch, Fr. Paul Chaim Benedicta Schenck, Jewish born priest and Chair of the National Pro-Life Center (Washington, DC), examines the ... continue reading


All Christian Saints & Heroes News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 4:1-6
1 I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you therefore to ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 [Psalm Of David] To Yahweh belong the earth and all ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:54-59
54 He said again to the crowds, 'When you see a cloud ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 24th, 2014 Image

St. Anthony Mary Claret
October 24: Claretian archbishop and founder. Anthony was born in Salient in ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter