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September 8, 2011

Ad Jesum Per Mariam

Aside from Jesus, Mary is perhaps the next most popular Biblical figure among Christians. For Catholic Christians, she is not only admired but revered and venerated. The Orthodox Christians, some Anglicans, Lutherans and even Muslims revere her as a holy person. Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been admired by many, including Filipino Christians who was even declared "pueblo amante de Maria". For Catholics, Mary is more than just a holy person: she becomes a model, an example on how to follow Jesus' teaching. She is the prototype of an Apostle. Before the apostles believed, she already believed ("Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.") Thus, for the Catholic Church, there is a set of dogmas concerning Mary that are among the core of the Catholic Faith. Catholics believe in one God in 3 divine persons (The Trinitarian Dogma), which implies that God is manifested in three distinct persons: God The Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. And because Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary is also deemed as the Mother of God. However, although Mary is the Mother of God, she is not his mother in the sense that she is the source of Jesus's Divinity nor because she is "older" than God. She is the Mother of God simply because she carried in her womb a divine person—Jesus Christ, God "in the flesh" (2 John 7, cf. John 1:14)—and in the sense that she contributed the genetic matter to the human form God took in Jesus Christ. Some Non-catholics however assert that Mary did not carry God in her womb, but only carried Christ’s human nature. This assertion recalls to mind a heresy from the fifth century known as Nestorianism. What is Nestorianism? Who is Nestorius?

Nestorius was a patriarch of Constantinople who preached that the human and divine persons of Christ are separate. Before Nestorius came, there have been other heresies about Christ and most of these heresies attack not the divinity of Christ but the humanity of Christ. One very popular heresy was the heresy of Arianism. It was started by Arius, a presbyter from Alexandria who taught that Jesus Christ was not God but only somebody lesser than God The Father. "God the Father who was unbegotten and always existing, was separate from the lesser Jesus Christ ("only-begotten"), born before time began and creator of the world. The Father, working through the Son, created the Holy Spirit, who was subservient to the Son as the Son was to the Father. The Father was seen as "the only true God". This is somewhat the same belief modern-day Iglesia ni Cristo, an indigenous Christian cult founded in the Philippines, would profess. Other Christian sects in the same country would also adopt the same belief (e.g. Apollo C. Quiboloy's cult). Arianism was denounced in the Council of Nicaea.

Another heresy referring to the divinity and humanity of Christ is the heresy of Adoptionism. According to this theory (which is quite similar to Nestorianism), Jesus was born merely human and that he became divine later in his life. This belief is usually adopted by some Christian sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists and other Protestant sects. Another heresy is the heresy of Apollinarism which declared that Jesus had a human body and lower soul but a divine mind. The heresy of Docetism declared that Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die. Monophysitism meanwhile declared that Christ has only one nature (divine) and his human nature is actually merged with this divine nature, making him a "divine human", almost like a superman or demigod. Patripassianism declared that the Father and Son are not two distinct persons, and thus God the Father suffered on the cross as Jesus. If one would listen to many "preachers" and TV evangelists preaching about Christ and Jesus, most of them seem to share, either in part or in whole, these old heresies already denounced by the early Christian Church.

The declaration therefore that Mary is the Mother of God serves as a defense line against the heresies attacking the divinity of Christ. To say that Jesus is God and not believe that Mary, who bore him, is Mother of God, is contradicting himself. The early Christians, disciples of the original disciples of Jesus Christ, long before the heresies against Christ came to light, believe that Mary is theotokos (God-Bearer). Peter of Alexandria wrote to the Non-egyptian Bishops in 324 A.D, "We acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the firstling; he bore a body not in appearance but in truth derived from Mary the Mother of God."

When Nestorius therefore declared that Jesus has two separate natures, his Divine nature and human nature, he also declared that Mary should no longer be called Mother of God but Mother of Christ because, by following his argument, Mary gave birth to the Human nature of Jesus and not to the Divine Nature. Cyril of Jerusalem, a contemporary of Nestorius, wrote against such belief, saying, "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... But we do not say that the Word from God dwelt as in an ordinary human born of the holy virgin... we understand that, when he became flesh, not in the same way as he is said to dwell among the saints do we distinguish the manner of the indwelling; but he was united by nature and not turned into flesh... There is, then, one Christ and Son and Lord, not with the sort of conjunction that a human being might have with God as in a unity of dignity or authority; for equality of honor does not unite natures. For Peter and John were equal to each other in honor, both of them being apostles and holy disciples, but the two were not one. Nor do we understand the manner of conjunction to be one of juxtaposition, for this is insufficient in regard to natural union.... Rather we reject the term 'conjunction' as being inadequate to express the union... [T]he holy virgin gave birth in the flesh to God united with the flesh according to hypostasis, for that reason we call her Theotokos... If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is, in truth, God, and therefore that the holy virgin is Theotokos (for she bore in a fleshly manner the Word from God become flesh), let him be anathema."

Thus, when the Council of Ephesus declared that Mary is infact Theotokos and not just Cristotokos, it was actually in defense against Nestorius' attack on Jesus Christ's Indivisible (human and divine) nature. Like a mote around a castle, to deny Christ's divinity, one must hurdle first the doctrine of Mary being the mother of God. Mary is Theotokos because her son Jesus is one person who is both God and man, divine and human. Cyril of Jerusalem would write, "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 birth (to Jesus who is God), not (be called Mother of God)?" Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, even preached such words: "One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God." Whatever one believes, it cannot be denied that Mary has influenced a lot of human history. From the moment she said "Yes", the world was changed. May our devotion to her lead us ultimately to her son: Ad Jesum per Mariam: To Jesus Through Mary.


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