Was Mary the mother of God? When she kissed her son’s cheek, was she kissing the face of God?
For many Bible believers the emphasis that some people place on Mary is quite out of keeping with the gospel. She has been called the co- redeemer, for it is said that without her willing obedience Jesus could not have redeemed the world. Some people declare her: ‘sinless’. She is said to have remained a virgin throughout her life. It is said that she was bodily assumed to heaven after her death. She has become a centre of devotion – venerated as the Mother of God who dispenses grace to the faithful. Many people pray to her. And many pray through her -for as the mother of God she is thought to have the ear of her Son: Jesus.
When we turn to the pages of the Bible none of this is seen in the accounts of Jesus life and ministry. In fact, one of the striking things about Mary is how little is said about her in the Bible. She is a faithful and godly woman who was blessed by God in giving birth to his son. Jesus gave her no special place in the Kingdom of God. Rather those who hear and keep the word of God were accorded the special blessing that people thought would belong to his mother (Luke 11:27-28). Yet her son cared for her when she stood at the cross. And she was amongst the believers on the day of Pentecost.
So, is it wrong to call her the “mother of God”?
If by this we venerate her as a special person of spiritual worship or assistance, then the term is misleading, unhelpful and wrong. To elevate Mary to a place that, according to the Bible, Jesus alone holds is to undermine Jesus. Jesus is the only way to the Father. He alone is without sin. He alone is the redeemer of the world. He is the one who is full of God’s grace and dispenses this favour to God’s people. He works in the world through his Spirit. He is seated at God’s right hand and is ever caring for his people. When we pray, we come to the Father through him, not through Mary. We pray in his name, not Mary’s. There is no need to approach Mary in prayer for nobody is closer to the Father than Jesus and nobody knows and cares for our problems as much as Jesus.
However, the term “mother of God” is not wrong, if by it we mean that Jesus was fully God and fully human at one and the same time. The debate about Jesus’ nature raged for centuries in the early church. Was Jesus part God and part Man, or temporarily man and not God, or not truly man only appearing to be human? There are many ways in which the nature of Jesus was perceived.
At the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD the debate was finally settled. The Council accepted the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine at one and the same time. At that point the term “mother of God” becomes a useful touchstone of orthodoxy. For if Jesus the human was fully divine then Mary was the mother of the Man who was God – that is, she was the mother of God. To refuse to acknowledge that she was the mother of God is to deny that Jesus was fully divine.
As the second of our 39 Articles says of Jesus
“The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that the two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man: …”
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