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Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby mitchellmckain » 16 Mar 2009, 06:04

rusmeister wrote:In Orthodoxy, it depends on the language, but the Russian "Bogoroditsa" (Birth-giver of God) and the Greek "Theotokos" (ditto) accurately describe what Mary did for Christ. She did literally give birth to Him, He was uncreated and existed before all the ages, He did say "I keep sending you prophets..." and "before Abraham was, I AM". The title, which, until fairly recently, was rendered in English as "the Mother of God" has been phased out in favor of the Greek term

I cannot say that I connect so well to the Greek or Russian terms - so I am limited to considering the English translation as "God-bearer". I must admit that this doesn't raise the objections in me that the title "mother of God" does. The infant Jesus was indeed God and Mary did indeed bear and give birth to this infant Jesus. "God-bearer" refers simply and directly to what Mary did and does not speak to the relationship between Mary and God which is where all the dissonance is coming from in my thinking. As I said before the relationship between Mary and God is that of Mary as the child and God as the parent and NOT the other way around.


rusmeister wrote: - and I would say it is because of the misunderstandings caused by the history of English-speaking countries, dominated by Protestantism - which, without reference to the more ancient Christian Tradition (being of necessity limited to post-16th century in any such reference) understood the term automatically as "Mother of God the Father", which is not what the term means at all. For us, the trinity is a Mystery, and we're OK with that. How it is that God can be Three and One, how it is that Mary can be the Theotokos but not the mother of God the Father is a Mystery to us - and that's OK. Who said we need to understand God?

In all Church language and references, the term "Theotokos" is generally used for direct address, although various permutations of "Mother (of God, of Christ, the Savior, etc)" are also encountered and make no waves. We don't take such references to mean "Mother of the Father".

I explained before why that qualification simply cannot work for me. It is NOT a matter of some confusion between the persons of the Trinity for the person of the Trinity which we know as God the Son DID NOT ORIGINATE in the womb of Mary any more than did God the Father. Mary is NOT "mother of God the Son" any more than Mary is "mother of God the Father". 1 Tim 2:5 "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" AND Mary is the mother of that man. God the Son became a man and Mary is the mother of that man. In the man Jesus the Christ, human and divine are reconciled and made one, and so He is the mediator and Mary is the mother of that mediator in whom is this reconciliation, but Mary is not the mother of God - she is NOT the mother of any person of the Trinity, because all three of these persons are uncreated and without beginning.


I suppose it might make sense to claim that there is a kind of reverse adoptionism going on here where the God the Son is kind of an adopted son of Mary, and that God the Son having become a man who was born to Mary has taken upon Himself this relationship of son to Mary just as He took upon Himself a human form. BUT I don't see any evidence in the Bible that this is the case and the passage (found in all three synoptic gospels) I quoted suggests quite the opposite, that Mary is mother to Jesus in human terms alone and that as God the Son He does not see Himself in the relationship of son to Mary at all.
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby Stanley Anderson » 16 Mar 2009, 16:53

mitchellmckain wrote:Oh please... please call me a heretic. For that would be a badge of honor letting me stand side by side with all the others whom the Catholic church has also in their arrogance declared to be heretics!


Oh please, yourself. Don't revel in some kind of perceived persecution badge of honor, especially about a side comment whose purpose was to stay on the thread topic track, and to specifically avoid going in the "heresy accusation" direction. I tried to make it as clear and as gently said that I was simply noting the seeming contrast of your statement with Catholic views along with my reluctance to get into that sort of discussion, particularly since it has all been hashed out before, and I have more important matters at the moment about my own sins and issues to deal with than get further into another technical doctrinal discussion. You are not the first person to have ever been proud of defying the Big Bad Ugly Catholic Church. It's a fairly common phenomenon these days (and has been for some time).

I think perhaps we can say that my understanding of the word "mother" finds no commonality with any meaning in the word as it is used in this title "mother of God" for Mary -- which is after all the whole point of my OP.


Is this all just an Inigo Montoya (from The Princess Bride) "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" sort of discussion? The phrase "Mother of God" has been used devoutly for well over 1500 years by saints, intellectuals, scholars, simple uneducated folk, and everyone in between (not to mention Elisabeth's prophetic Scriptural utterance prompted by the Holy Spirit that pronounced Mary to be "the mother of my Lord"). They all have generally had a pretty good idea of the definitions of Mother and God and the conjunction of the words without feeling the need to redefine anything.

I must think that this is basically what Catholics do -- they redefine the word to make it fit the title...


Disagree with the concept if you like, but give some credit to the integrity of the great number of minds far greater than yours or mine that have used the term in reverence and humility and honor and true intention. If you think them simply mistaken, go ahead and make your arguments (as you have respectfully done for many other parts of this thread), but if this is hidden attempt at one more of the endless efforts out there to reveal the shocking horrors of the evil Catholic leaders and conspirators intent on duping all us common, poor, lost sheep for the last 2000 years, I'll pass. Too many ruts in that road for me to walk down it one more time.

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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby postodave » 16 Mar 2009, 23:35

had used a few centuries before. In either case it won't wash.
Mitch said:
I think perhaps we can say that my understanding of the word "mother" finds no commonality with any meaning in the word as it is used in this title "mother of God" for Mary -- which is after all the whole point of my OP. I must think that this is basically what Catholics do -- they redefine the word to make it fit the title,

But also said:
I have a different idea about the meaning of this word "heresy" which is all about the sort of exclusivity that demands that others conform to their ideas and dogmas in order to be acceptable to them (which they often pretend is equivalent to being acceptable to God).

Which seems to mean that if Mitch as a protestant uses a word with a meaning pretty nearly the opposite of its usual one that is okay whereas when a Catholic does this it is somehow hideously wrong. A word derives its meaning from the context in which it is used thus we do not for example accuse Rutherford of misusing the word atom because he does not use it in the sane was as Democritus.
Mitch said:
A mother most definitely precedes her son and that is part of the meaning of the word "mother".

By the same logic: A father most definitely precedes his son and that is part of the meaning of the word "father". Hence we can see that the Nestorians - for this was an argument of the Nestorians - were using the same kind of argument the Arians had used a couple of centuries before them.
The problem with translating the word theotokos as God bearer is that this could imply that Christ passed through Mary like water through a pipe and not recognise that something new came into being as a result of this conception - a person who was both God and man - that is the point of Father Mathew's criticism of my understanding of the Incarnation that comes at the end of the thread I posted the link to above. So the title theotokos does not simply mean one who carried God but one who went through the whole birth process from conception to delivery and the English word that describes someone who goes through that process is Mother. This is also why the expression spouse of the spirit is significant because it puts the emphasis on the role the spirit played in the conception of Christ exactly as the Nicene Creed says 'conceived by the holy spirit' and the child Mary conceived and bore was the the second person of the trinity hypostatically uniting a complete human nature and the divine nature he had had from all eternity. That is what orthodox Christology is about and the title Mother of God has nothing to do with the idea of Mary bringing into being the eternal person of the word. It's all there in St Cyril as I said - and before we get sidetracked I agree Cyril was not the nicest person in the world and I agree Nestorius was not treated fairly and that things could have been handled a lot better but the truth is the truth whatever we might think of the personalities involved.
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby mitchellmckain » 17 Mar 2009, 04:42

postodave wrote:The problem with translating the word theotokos as God bearer is that this could imply that Christ passed through Mary like water through a pipe and not recognise that something new came into being as a result of this conception - a person who was both God and man

Ah so you believe that a new person came into being as a result of this conception. Interesting. I thought that was a heresy even according to your definition of heresy. Well to each his own I guess.


Oh.... I'm sorry.... could it be that I am ignoring everything else you said??? ...kind of like you ignored everything I said about Mary being the mother of the the only mediator between man and God - this completely new reconcilation between the human and the divine?


postodave wrote:By the same logic: A father most definitely precedes his son and that is part of the meaning of the word "father". Hence we can see that the Nestorians - for this was an argument of the Nestorians - were using the same kind of argument the Arians had used a couple of centuries before them.

No it is not the same logic at all. One is a reversal of order and the other is not. God preceeds Mary and this is opposite of the case of a mother and son. But even in the case of persons of the Trinity, even though they are eternally co-existing we nevertheless use the language "only begotten" and "proceeds from" in describing the relationships between them.


PS. I think this strategy of muttering heresy is hilarious. They presumably mutter like this because they really have no case to back up their claim. And if you dare to respond to their muttering then it is you who are making a big deal about it! LOL Hilarious!
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby archenland_knight » 17 Mar 2009, 15:43

This whole thread seems to be "Much Ado About Nothing." Whether the title is appropriate depends entirely on what one means by "Mother of God".

A basic tennent of Christianity is that Christ was 100% God and 100% human, a seeming paradox we refer to as the "Hypostatic Union". As far as I know, all major Christian Churches adhere to this concept. We also all agree that it is a mystery that defies true comprehension by humans, at least in this life. We can state it, but we can't really understand it. There's more than adequate scriptural support for the concept, so "Sola Scriptura" Protestants defend the concept as vigoroursly as the EOC or RCC would.

Now, as Mary was the instrument of God in bringing forth the fully Divine Christ into the world, she was certainly the "Mother of God" at least in as far as that it was through her that God brought forth His Incarnate form into this world. She was a willing vessel, furthermore, and it was because of her yieldedness to God that she was chosen for this honor. If this is what one means by "Mother of God", then very few would consider the title inappropriate. She was the "Mother of The Incarnate Diety", and there's no two ways about that. If that's what you mean when you say, "Mother of God", then I can't imagine anyone having a problem with it.

On the other end of the spectrum, even the Pope himself would not claim that she in some way brought forth the "Elohim" of Genesis 1 that created the Heavnes and the Earth. That concept he would consider blasephemy as surely as would any Protestant. If that were what someone meant by "Mother of God" (and I've never even heard of anyone who means this), then surely that use of the title is entirely inappropriate, and frankly blasphemous.

Now, in between those two extremes are all sorts of shades of meaning, some of which might be appropriate, and some of which are not. But as the "Hypostatic Union" is itself a mystery, then the greyer shades of what it means to be "The Birth-Giver/Mother of God" are a mystery as well. Because we can't truly understand the union of human and Divine in Christ, we cannot fully understand everything about Mary being His Mother. I don't know what EOC or RCC teachings say, but Protestant teachings would say that not only can we not fully understand it, but there's no reason to assume that Mary herself did either.

But Mary was content with that. She performed her assigned task for the kingdom with courage and faithfulness. She brought forth the Divine Word Incarnate into the World. She cared for him as any infant or toddler or child would need to be cared for. She nursed him, bathed him, fed him, protected him from dangers, ... and no doubt went down to the local Synagouge School from time to time to tell them they weren't challenging her boy enough. :wink:

Okay, maybe not that last part, but you get my meaning. (I can just see the teacher now. "Not challenging him?! How can we? It's like He was there when the Torah was written!")

She was his mother, the mother of God Incarnate. What that means, I think, is unclear precisely because the nature of the Hypostatic Union is a mystery.

Even most Protestants believe she has a special place in the Kingdom. The Apostles brought forth the message of the Gospel into the world. Mary brought forth the embodiment of the Gospel into the world. In some respects, it is very appropriate to think of her as the First Apostle.

So, is the title "Mother of God" appropriate? I don't see how it could be otherwise, at least on a certain level. What does it mean, exactly? What was the extent of her role in bringing forth Diety into the world? Well, since we can't understand the H.U., we can't really answer that question.

We should be content to understand what we can, and leave the rest to faith.
Last edited by archenland_knight on 17 Mar 2009, 21:22, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby Sven » 17 Mar 2009, 19:28

mitchellmckain, if you'll review the Rules of Conduct for the Wardrobe, you'll find you're in violation of two of them.

# Not everybody who participates here are same as you, so it's best to never make assumptions. Respect toward one another is essential. Even if you disagree strongly with another's opinions, lifestyle, religion, or other affiliations, it does not give anybody a reason to be anything but respectful towards them.
# While debate and discussion is fine, personal attacks, rudeness or insulting posts will not be tolerated. This applies not only to the public areas of the Wardrobe, but to private messages, chat, and any other utilities associated with Into the Wardrobe.


Modify your further responses to show basic courtesy to others. Consider this your first warning.
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby john » 17 Mar 2009, 19:44

Actually, I have given other warnings in the past. We have a standard of conduct here, and I only have so much of a tolerance for bad behavior. Mitchell, either find some good will and temper yourself from this point on, or find another forum to have your arguments on, because I'm getting tired of the tone you contribute here.
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby Stanley Anderson » 17 Mar 2009, 21:42

archenland_knight wrote:..So, is the title "Mother of God" appropriate? I don't see how it could be otherwise, at least on a certain level...


Your entire post is pretty sensible I think. And so it might very well be "much ado about nothing", except that, curiously, a lot of peole do seem to have a fairly big problem with the term "Mother of God". So there does seem to be something to make at least some ado about.

I suspect much of that difficulty is probably intimately connected with the various aspects of Catholic practice regarding Mary that appear objectionable to many Protestants. Thus, while the term by itself as you describe it may not technically cause problems for them, the associations that people link with the use of the term may cause it to have negative connotations in their minds.

But perhaps there are others here that have problems with the term who can say whether what I am suggesting is correct or not?

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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby postodave » 17 Mar 2009, 22:43

I agree with Stanley on Archenland Knight:
Your entire post is pretty sensible I think.
I can understand why protestants would dislike the term 'Mother of God' Calvin for example tends to use the more directly biblical expression 'Mother of Our Lord' but I just think the Chalcedonian definition is too good to lose and so of course did Calvin. Lewis said this though didn't he that it is sensitive ground because the protestant tends to think Catholic views of Mary undermines monotheism and the Catholic feels as if the protestant was insulting his mother or sister.
Mitch - if you follow the discussion I gave the link to at Monachos you will see why I am putting this in a different way than I did last time we discussed. It is not unknown for a person to modify his views in the face of legitimate criticism! Here's the link again http://www.monachos.net/forum/showthread.php?t=5059 Meanwhile here's a taster of St. John of Damascus 675-749:
Moreover we proclaim the holy Virgin to be in strict truth the Mother of God. For inasmuch as He who was born of her was true God, she who bare the true God incarnate is the true mother of God. For we hold that God was born of her, not implying that the divinity of the Word received from her the beginning of its being, but meaning that God the Word Himself, Who was begotten of the Father timelessly before the ages, and was with the Father and the Spirit without beginning and through eternity, took up His abode in these last days for the sake of our salvation in the Virgin’s womb, and was without change made flesh and born of her. For the holy Virgin did not bare mere man but true God: and not mere God but God incarnate, Who did not bring down His body from Heaven, nor simply passed through the Virgin as channel, but received from her flesh of like essence to our own and subsisting in Himself.

Now in all honesty Mitch, apart from the use of the words 'Mother of God' is there anything in that you could disagree with?
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby mitchellmckain » 18 Mar 2009, 04:04

Warnings heard and acknowledged. My apologies. I should understand better that hostilities are not tolerated here. I should learn to respond more quicky to hostility with apologies for provoking that hostility.

postodave wrote:I can understand why protestants would dislike the term 'Mother of God' Calvin for example tends to use the more directly biblical expression 'Mother of Our Lord' but I just think the Chalcedonian definition is too good to lose and so of course did Calvin. Lewis said this though didn't he that it is sensitive ground because the protestant tends to think Catholic views of Mary undermines monotheism and the Catholic feels as if the protestant was insulting his mother or sister.

"Mother of Our Lord" is also fine with me. I would make no claim about the Catholic "view" (I would use the word "practice" instead of "view") undermining monotheism. That even sounds ridiculous to me. As I have said before, I see this as a very minor issue. So Catholics and Protestants have different views about the place of Mary in the scheme of things. Because I raised the issue perhaps I made it seem like I think it is a big deal. But I don't. It just happens to be something I was thinking about and so I raised the issue to see what would come out of a discussion of it.

But I do not attach much significance to the different ideas on this topic. How can a love and respect for Mary be a bad thing? The same goes for the Pope too. If anything it is a criticism of the love that others have which is a bad thing. So, yeah I don't see any reason to believe a lot of the things that Catholics believe about Mary and I don't think this title is appropriate. So what? I don't have to use it, do I? That really is all there is to it.


postodave wrote:Now in all honesty Mitch, apart from the use of the words 'Mother of God' is there anything in that you could disagree with?

Nope. The use of those words is the only thing I disagree with.
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby john » 18 Mar 2009, 04:31

mitchellmckain wrote:Warnings heard and acknowledged. My apologies. I should understand better that hostilities are not tolerated here. I should learn to respond more quicky to hostility with apologies for provoking that hostility.


It's too bad that you can't seem to take responsibility for your actions here, Mitchell. I've seen this from you on more than one occasion. You are the one being addressed, and how I deal with others is none of your concern. I usually would be doing this via private message, but you're the one who wanted it public, so here it is. Not only should you understand that your behavior is unacceptable, but you will be changing it, and you will show respect (to other members as well as to me) if you wish to stay here. I'm not saying any more on this.
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby Lioba » 18 Mar 2009, 21:43

Back to Mary? I personally prefer the orthodox title because it best describes the whole thing without giving room for misunderstanding.
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby postodave » 19 Mar 2009, 22:52

Well continuing more or less where we left off. I quoted John of Damascus and apart from the use of the phrase 'Mother of God' Mitch finds no objection to that. Now my point is that whenever you find the fathers defending this title they do so on something like those grounds and they deny the thing that troubles Mitch, the suggestion that the phrase implies that Mary gave birth to the divinity of the word.
So we find for example Cyril writing to the monks of Egypt:
I am amazed that there are some who are entirely in doubt as to whether the holy Virgin should be called Theotokos or not. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how is the holy Virgin who gave [Him] birth, not [Theotokos]?

And here is Cyril from his second letter to Nestorius:
the holy fathers... have ventured to call the holy Virgin Theotokos, not as though the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of their existence from the holy Virgin, but because from her was born his holy body, rationally endowed with a soul, with which [body] the Word was united according to the hypostasis, and is said to have been begotten according to the flesh.

Now the next question is why? Why are they so keen to use and defend this phrase even though it is open to this misunderstanding? Theologically it seems to me the purpose is not, or not directly, to exalt Mary but rather to preserve an important truth about her son which could be lost if the title Mother of Christ were adopted. Nestorius when asked if the title Mother of God was appropriate replied yes but only if the title 'Mother of Man' were also used. This seemed to split the divine person into bits, to disunify the person and I have to say that however carefully nuanced Mitch's explanation is it seems to me to have the same effect.so I think this is exactly the kind of thing Cyril and the other fathers were trying to guard against - Mitch said
Thus Mary is the mother of Jesus, the man that God became, but Mary was NOT the mother of God. Jesus is fully man and as a man He is the son of Mary, but Jesus is fully God and as God He is NOT the son of Mary but Son of the Father

Mary is not called Mother of God simply because Christ has a divine as well as a human nature but because the basis of the union of natures is a divine person.So for the fathers this was not about the nurturing aspect of motherhood, an activity, but about a relationship between two persons where one carries and gives birth to the other.
Hence from Cyril's third letter we find
Confessing the Word to be united with the flesh according to the hypostasis, we worship one Son and Lord, Jesus Christ. We do not divide him into parts and separate man and God as though they were united with each other [only] through a unity of dignity and authority... nor do we name separately Christ the Word from God, and in similar fashion, separately, another Christ from the woman, but we know only one Christ, the Word from God the Father with his own flesh... The holy virgin gave birth in the flesh to God united with the flesh according to hypostasis, for that reason we call her Theotokos
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby Tom » 23 Mar 2009, 17:00

Hi All,
I was wondering whether those who don't have a problem with "Mary Mother of God" would also be ok with "Mary Mother of YHWH"?
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Re: Mother of God, is this title appropriate?

Postby Bluegoat » 23 Mar 2009, 17:24

postodave wrote:Now the next question is why? Why are they so keen to use and defend this phrase even though it is open to this misunderstanding? Theologically it seems to me the purpose is not, or not directly, to exalt Mary but rather to preserve an important truth about her son which could be lost if the title Mother of Christ were adopted. Nestorius when asked if the title Mother of God was appropriate replied yes but only if the title 'Mother of Man' were also used. This seemed to split the divine person into bits, to disunify the person and I have to say that however carefully nuanced Mitch's explanation is it seems to me to have the same effect.so I think this is exactly the kind of thing Cyril and the other fathers were trying to guard against -


Yes, I think this is exactly the issue. It is a matter of separating Christ's divine nature from his human nature.
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