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David's Mental Meanderings
10th January 2003

Throughout the last year, Mrs. Holford has often noted that she no longer has her own identity. She is Aidan's mother. Even within my family, she noticed that her stock had sharply risen in value when she became "the mother of the grandson". She had no idea she would become the object of such reverence.

The only one who reveres her motherhood more is Aidan. As I have watched Aidan and Kelly together, I have had a glimpse into the wonders of motherhood. Because of this, I have finally begun to grasp an important part of Orthodox theology that I had previously only acknowledged as factually true.

It is really only at Christmastime that Protestants come into contact with that one person in the Bible, who more than any other, defines their Protestantism: the Virgin Mary. She shows up several times throughout the Gospels, but she can be glossed over easily enough. In fact, if you play your hermeneutical cards just right, she can even be brought down a peg or two.

The Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 was called to address the Nestorian heresy. Nestorius was a patriarch of Constantinople who came up with the novel doctrine that Mary was not "Theotokos", the Greek word meaning "Mother of God". Mother of God? Hardly does a term send greater shivers down the Protestant spine. Why, God is eternal! He can't have a mother! Surely to say that God has a mother is to say that God has a beginning and a source other than Himself.

At Ephesus there was no suggestion that Mary played any role in creating the Godhead. Even the Reformed Church historian Philip Schaff notes:

It was of course not the sense, or monstrous nonsense, of this term, that the creature bore the Creator, or that the eternal Deity took its beginnings from Mary; which would be the most absurd and most wicked of heresies, and a shocking blasphemy; but the expression was intended only to denote the indissoluble union of the divine and human natures of Christ, and the veritable incarnation of the Logos, who took the human nature from the body of Mary, came forth God-Man from her womb, and as God-Man suffered on the cross.

Unfortunately modern Protestantism gives higher priority to its name than its Christology. By that I mean that it is more important to not believe what Rome believes about the Virgin Mary than it is to believe correctly about Jesus. Schaff admitted that to the Protestant mind the term "Theotokos" is offensive because of its connection with the veneration the Roman Church gives to Mary.

This zeal to protect God's eternity ultimately ignores the Trinity. It also completely misses the point of the Fathers at Ephesus. The whole issue concerning whether there ever was a time when "the Son of God was not" had already been established at the very first Council at Nicea. It was there that Arias got the old one-two for suggesting such a thing - he got the left hook from St Nicholas and the right doctrine from Athanasius. In fact, it is in the writings of Athanasius, as well as his predecessor Alexander of Alexandria, St Basil, and others that we see the term "Theotokos" long before the Council of Ephesus.

The Nestorian view of Mary as "Christotokos" - Mother of Christ, as opposed to Mother of God - was explicitly repudiated at the Council of Ephesus. The implication of this view is that Mary was the mother of a merely human person who then assumed divinity in one heretical form or another.

Mary is Theotokos because the child born of her is God. She did not give birth to Anyone less than God. The eternal Second Person of the Trinity became an embryo in Mary's womb. He may have two natures, but He is one Person, and that one Person grew inside the Virgin for nine months and was birthed by her and obeyed her, keeping the Fourth Commandment perfectly.

Jesus is eternally the God-man. His humanity did not dissolve or disappear upon his death, resurrection, or ascension. His obligation to the Fourth Commandment has never ceased. He still honours his mother. It is difficult to get around this. You cannot say that as to His human nature He honours her, but as to His divine nature He doesn't. It is not natures that honour or not -- it is persons. Though He is of two Natures, Jesus Christ is one Person.

This raises two primary questions. How does Jesus show His honour for His mother and how does this affect our own relationship to His mother?

It is telling that Jesus' last communication from the Cross was to entrust His mother to the care of one of His Disciples. At the point of taking upon Himself the weight of the sins of the world, of fulfilling the entire Old Testament, of accomplishing our redemption, His concern is for the care of His mother. You would have to say that in respect to both His Deity and His humanity, he was the perfect Son.

But what does He say to His mother and to the only Apostle of His Church that hadn't run scared from the Jews? Not "He'll take care of you" and "Take care of my mother." Mary has a special relationship to the Church. "Woman, behold your son." But the Church also has a special relationship to Mary: "Behold your mother." Christians who refuse to honour her are in a sense violating the Fourth Commandment.

Of course St John personally cared for Mary. In fact, she later went with him to Ephesus, where Mrs. Holford and I visited her house a couple of years ago.

St John's responsibility for the Theotokos is also evidence of the doctrine of Perpetual Virginity, because otherwise she would have been cared for by her other children. This doctrine was not just supported by the St Athanasius and St Augustine and the whole of the early Church, but also strongly defended by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and other Reformers, as well as other prominent Protestant church leaders, such as John Wesley.

First let us leave aside the doctrine the Romans call the "Assumption" and the Orthodox refer to as the "Dormition of the Theotokos". For our purposes, it doesn't matter how Mary got to heaven. However, if we believe that the saints are alive and conscious in heaven, then Mary is alive in heaven. As the second-generation Swiss Reformer Heinrich Bullinger said, she "now lives happily with Christ in heaven and is called and remains ever-Virgin and Mother of God." So if Jesus is alive in heaven and Mary is alive in heaven, He still honours her today, because He is eternally her Son.

Likewise we continue to honour her. If we have no trouble honouring dead Presidents, and dead war heroes, we should have no trouble honouring the woman who gave of herself to give us the Saviour of world.

Let's get back to the Council of Ephesus. The reason it is important to call Mary "Theotokos" and honour her is not to focus attention on her. What we call her and how we honour her defines Who we believe Jesus is. She is Theotokos because Jesus is "Theos" - the Greek word for God. She is the Mother of God because "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

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