Mother of God / Theotokos Sermon
– by Father Johann Roten, S.M.
The title “Mother of God” is not found as such in the writings of the New Testament. The first known mention is that of Saint Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235). Later, Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople (428), will dispute the attribution of this title to Mary because of his views on Christology. For him, the Son of God is one thing, the son of Mary another, in the sense that he sees in Christ two Persons: one Divine (the Logos), the other human (Jesus). Consequently for Nestorius, Mary cannot be called “theotokos” (Mother of God), at least in the real sense demanded by the hypostatic union (the union of two natures, the human and the Divine, in the one Person of the Word).
The Council of Ephesus (431) defends this unicity of person in Christ and condemns Nestorius and his followers. It approves, by acclamation, the second letter of Saint Cyril to Nestorius and through this approval officially confirms the attribution to Mary of the title Mother of God. The normative decision taken at Ephesus will be explicitly promulgated as dogma in 451 by the Council of Chalcedon.
Thus, the title of Mother of God derives from Catholic teaching on the Incarnation of the Word. Mary conceives and brings forth, in His human nature, One Who is God from all eternity. Jesus is not God by the fact that He is conceived or born of Mary (this would not be a Mystery but an absurdity because it would make Mary mother of the Divine nature). Mary is Mother of God because from her own flesh she gives to the Word a human nature like hers. And just as in ordinary human generation, the truth of the parents’ generative action is not the human nature produced but the person subsisting in this nature, so in the case of Mary: her maternal action reaches to the Person of the Word, Who by this very fact is truly her Son. Mary is “theotokos” because “the Word was made flesh” in her and through her.
Let me draw three simple theological conclusions from Mary’s Divine Motherhood:
1. Mary’s divine motherhood says something about Mary’s virginity.
In order that the body of Christ might be shown to be a real body, he was born of a woman; but in order that his Godhead might be made clear, he was born of a virgin.
St. Thomas Aquinas
2. It says something about Mary’s role in salvation.
Nor was Mary less than was befitting the Mother of Christ. When the apostles fled, she stood before the Cross and with reverent gaze beheld her son’s wounds, for she waited not for her child’s death, but the world’s salvation.
3. Finally, Mary’s divine motherhood says something about the role of the Church.
Born of the Father, Christ created his mother; formed as man in his mother, he glorified his Father. He, the son of Mary and the spouse of holy Church, has made the Church like to his mother, since he made it a mother for us and he kept it a virgin for himself. The Church, like Mary, has inviolate integrity and incorrupt fecundity. What Mary merited physically the Church has guarded spiritually, with the exception that Mary brought forth only one child while the Church has many children destined to be gathered into one body.
St. Augustine of Hippo
On a different level, close to our own concerns and spiritual endeavor, here is what St. Silouan had to say about Mary’s love of God:
We cannot fathom the depth of the love of the Mother of God, but this we know:
The greater the love, the greater the sufferings of the soul.
The fuller the love, the fuller the knowledge of God.
The more ardent the love, the more fervent the prayer.
The more perfect the love, the holier the life.
A holy life can be many things. At the beginning of a new year it could and should mean the sanctification of time. Time is a precious commodity. It should also be a holy commodity. As someone remarked: “Twenty-five years ago, people were asking, ‘How can I get to heaven?’ Today they are asking, ‘How can I get through the day?'”
In this context, the digital clock takes on the deeper meaning of disconnectedness. Digital clocks tell us what time it is now. They don’t tell us about the past or about the future like a watch that has a face on it. It simply describes the present, right now. To that extent it becomes a metaphor for the Now Generation: no past, no future. Only now. People become what we call “digital livers.” They want it all now. They are a rootless, hurried people looking at a digital watch that gives no clue to the past or future. As someone wrote in a rather cynical poem:
This is the age of the half-read page,
The quick hash and the mad dash.
This is the age of the bright night
And the nerves tight,
And the plane with a brief stop.
This is the age of the lamp tan in a short span,
The brain strain and the heart pain.
The catnaps till the spring snaps
And the fun is done.
A holy life marked by a true sense of the Incarnation should be inspired by the following New Year’s prayer:
Lord, you who live outside of time and reside in the imperishable moment,
We ask your blessing upon your gift of time.
Bless our calendars, those ordained lists of days, weeks and months,
Of holidays, holy days, fasts and feasts.
May they remind us of birthdays and other gift days, as they teach us
The secret that all life is meant for celebrations and contemplation.
Bless, Lord, this New Year, each of its 365 days and nights.
Bless us with happy seasons and a long life.
Grant to us, Lord, the New Year’s gift of a year of love.
And so let me conclude with this typically Irish verse:
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
I needed this years ago when an obstinate Protestant would not acknowledge Mary’s importance. It is still needed today since many Catholics are not catechized fully and new converts struggle with it.
Yes there more to this too! Mary as Mother of God is inferred in the Old Testament too. I’ll have to find the references!