Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Low Sunday—1 May A.D. 2011

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.”

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Text]
[Latin Text]

   In the year 431, just about a century after Christianity became legal in the empire, an ecumenical council was held in Ephesus, the city in modern day Turkey where the Blessed Virgin Mary lived under the care of Saint John the Apostle.  An ecumenical council is one attended by bishops and their representatives from all over the Church.  The council at Ephesus hosted over 200 bishops, and was presided over by Saint Cyril of Alexandria as the personal representative of Pope Saint Celestine I.  The primary reason for the council was a heresy being taught by Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, which claimed that the human and divine natures of Christ could not be united in the same person—at most, the human Christ might carry the divinity of God around in himself in a sort of symbiotic relationship.  Nestorius had the support of the Emperor Theodosius II, and was thus a powerful threat to the Catholic faith, which held that God and man were united in the person of Jesus Christ.

   Writing just a few years after the council, Pope Saint Leo the Great expressed the Catholic doctrine:

   The Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who “in the beginning was with God,” through whom “all things were made” and “without” whom “was nothing made (John 1:1-3),” with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with possible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.{1}

   One of the consequences of Nestorius' heresy, if it had been accepted, would be to deny the Blessed Virgin her traditional title of  Θεοτόκος (Theotokos) or Mother of God, as the Greek is translated.  Theotokos means “God bearer,” and if Christ were nothing more than a God-bearing man it would make little sense to call Mary a God-bearing woman.  For this reason Saint Cyril condemned Nestorius and his doctrine with the following anathema:

   If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is truly God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, “The Word was made flesh”] let him be anathema.{2}

   That Christ was both God and man, and that Mary was the mother of Christ as God and man, was not something new that was invented in A.D. 431.  It goes back to the claims made by our Lord Himself.  We read in Saint John's Gospel: “The Jews sought the more to kill him, because he did not only break the sabbath, but also said God was his Father, making himself equal to God.”{3}  And we know that He referred to Himself by the divine title “I am”  “Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am.  And they took up stones therefore to cast at Him.”{4} Not only do we have the words of many of the Fathers of the early Church that Christ was believed by Christians to be God,{5} but we have even the testimony of a Roman persecutor of Christians named Pliny the Younger, who described Christians as gathering to “sing a hymn to Christ as a divinity,” that is to Christ as God.{6}

   This immemorial belief in the joint divinity and humanity was threatened by the error of Nestorius, and condemned by the council—anyone who believed the error would be “anathema,” a word variously translated as “damned,” “condemned,” or excommunicated.  Until the most recent one, that was how ecumenical councils made it crystal clear just what was, and was not, Catholic doctrine.  Please note that the anathema applied equally to those who denied the divine motherhood of Mary, as it applied to those who denied the hypostatic union of God and man in Jesus Christ.

   To be clear, it should be pointed out that this divine motherhood is her motherhood in time, and not from eternity.  Mary will always be the Mother of God, “aveternally,” as the philosophers say—an eternally lasting relationship that had a beginning in time—which began when Mary gave her consent to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation.  Needless to say, Mary did not precede God in eternity.

   Just as Catholics have always known Mary to be the Mother of God, we have always known her to be our Mother as well.  Again, from Saint John's Gospel we learn that as our Lord was about to die on the Cross, since He had no brothers or sisters, He entrusted His Mother to the care of Saint John:  “He saith to his mother: 'Woman, behold thy son.'  After that, he saith to the disciple: 'Behold thy mother.' And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.”{7}  Christians have always understood that Saint John represented all of us in taking Mary for his adoptive mother.

   Today, in the crowning of Mary's statue, in Catholic churches throughout the world, we acknowledge the Blessed Virgin Mary to be both the Mother of God and our own spiritual Mother.  For those Modernists who portray her as something less, I will close with the words of the Late Monsignor Ronald Knox:

   They have said that we deify her; that is not because we exaggerate the eminence of God's Mother, but because they belittle the eminence of God.  A creature miraculously preserved from sin by the indwelling power of the Holy Ghost—that is to them a divine title, because that is all the claim their grudging theologies will concede, often enough, to our Lord Himself.  They refuse to honor the God-bearing Woman because their Christ is only a God-bearing Man.  We who know that God could (if He would) annihilate every existing creature without abating anything of His blessedness or His glory, are not afraid less the honor done to His creature of perfect Womanhood should prejudice the honor due to Him. Touchstone of truth in the ages of controversy, romance of the medieval world, she has not lost with the rise of new devotions, any fragment of her ancient glory.  Other lights may glow and dim as the centuries pass, she cannot suffer change; and when a Catholic ceases to honor her, he ceases to be a Catholic.”{8}

   May God forbid that any of us should ever do such a thing!


1  Pope Saint Leo I, Sermon 21

2  St. Cyril, anathema 1

8  Msgr. Ronald A. Knox, The Belief of Catholics





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