Heresy Poolside

One day last summer I got into a conversation with a woman at our community pool. She was an Evangelical Presbyterian, and was intrigued to hear that I was Catholic. Before long I got all the questions fired at me, and we finally got to Mary. The woman asked why we worship Mary. I said we didn’t, but if you consider who she really is, she must be pretty special right?

I then went on to explain that Mary was the mother of Jesus Christ, and as such she contributed his humanity. Jesus would have looked like Mary, but more than that, since God and Man were perfectly united in him she must have been a uniquely perfect person.

My new friend was shocked. She said, ‘No! that’s not what happened. Mary was just the channel through which God came into the world.’ My Presbyterian friend didn’t even grant that Christ’s human nature came through Mary. A better theologian than myself will be able to pin down exactly which Christological heresy this is. I suspect it is a kind of Docetism or Nestorianism.

Anyway, it shows that unorthodox understandings of the incarnation are still around. The correction for this has always been a proper understanding, and devotion to the Mother of God.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

Are Catholics and Orthodox justified in calling Mary, ‘Mother of God?’ It can be a confusing term, and we have to make clear that we are not calling Mary ‘Mother of God’ in the eternal sense. She is ‘Mother of God’ inasmuch as Jesus is God, and she is his mother.

The term Theotokos was formally accepted at the Council of Ephesus in 431. This was the church’s response to Nestorianism. Nestorius preferred the term Christotokos, indicating that Mary was simply the one who bore the Christ (the anointed One) into the world, and that she was only the mother of his humanity.

The Church fathers said this implied two distinct persons in Jesus Christ: the human son of Mary and the Divine Son of God. They insisted on the term Theotokos as a guarantee of right doctrine concerning the incarnation.

The term is, of course, totally Scriptural. In the story of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, we are told that Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, says, ‘Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?’ Not only does Elizabeth call Mary, “Mother of God”, but she does so under direct inspiration by the Holy Spirit.

There is a whole chapter on the title ‘Mother of God’ in the book I wrote with David Gustafson called Mary-A Catholic-Evangelical Debate.

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  • You were at a pool. You should have talked about baptism. ;-)For three and a half years I worked in a Willow Creek styled Presbyterian church here in Canada {a big one, OK, “the” big one} and they did infant baptism as well as baby dedication. Mix and match. Keep everyone happy.However, there was no room in the inn for the Mother of God. No sir.I’m not surprised your Presbyterian friend was scandalized over Mary. After all, the Westminster Catechism still sates that the Pope is the Antichrist and identifies the Roman Catholic Church with the Whore of Babylon. Their Westminster Confession tries to smooth the troubled waters by modulating the language but their bottom line is still their bottom line.It was God’s funny bone at work that I made my final Journey Home to the Catholic faith in the cradle of Presbyterianism and not during all my years as a Pentecostal minister {when one might have thought a search for all things apostolic might have drawn me as it has others; Alex Jones for one}.Once a person realizes that church history did not begin in the 1500s and reads it openly and not selectively one finds, well, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.From there on one either denies reason or one invites grace to add faith reason as one reconciles with truth.

  • Thank you onionboy. Newman said, ‘To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.’The unusual thing I have found is that now, as a Catholic, I am far more zealous to evangelize than I ever was as an Evangelical.I really do wish that my separated friends and family could share the great joy that comes with being a Catholic.Ah well…keep praying!

  • Father, I’m just wondering if your book contained a discussion of Mary within the context of the Gospel of John and how she was defined at the Wedding at Caana? “Woman”, the apparent rebuff by Jesus which was actually a call to penetrate deeper into the mystery of who he is and the role she fulfilled, the line drawn from Genesis to the Wedding, to the Passion (the other pillar upon which the Gospel of John was written), her final words in scripture which so perfectly establish what she does and who she is: “Do whatever he tells you.” And Origen’s words indicating that the Gospel of John has to be understood by resting upon the breast of Jesus as did John himself, and by taking Mary as our Mother as well? That reading alone does so much to reveal Mary’s role and her importance in salvation history. I’m sorry I have not read your book although it’s on my list. I’ll be discussing this with the RCIA class in a week or so and while I haven’t figured out which part of the reading to focus on (there are so many layers!), I know that as so many struggle with Mary’s role in the Church, I have to hit on that, and also the mystical Wedding in the context of the Messianic prophesies and the fulfillment in the Passion. Sorry….I just re-listned to a CD I bought from a talk I heard on this last summer, and it’s got me all fired up again. There’s just so much here that I just don’t see how people continue to reject the truth! Although I was one of them once, and I didn’t understand, either. But that’s what fires me up and gives me a desire to teach…and I’m guessing that, in a nutshell, is what brought you to where you are as well. Just on a much greater scale. Sorry, I’m rambling again. Thanks for putting up with my novels in your combox. Happy New Year!

  • Thank you. we do touch on the use of the word ‘Woman’ in that passage. Also how our Lord’s words ‘What Have I to do with you?’ are actually words of respect and honor rather than (what they seem like to our ears) a somewhat rude rebuff.

  • In Luke 1:43, the appellation given by Elizabeth, mother of my Lord, in Greek comes out to something like meter (mother) of kurios (lord). I am guessing that, even if her original utterance was in Aramaic, the term would not have been quite Theotokos. The term Theotokos, then, is not exactly scriptural; the point in your post seems a bit overextended to me.I do agree with your main point that your friend, who said Mary was “just the channel through which God came into the world” was embracing a variant of the Nestorian heresy, in that the main fault found with Nestorius was precisely that he was preaching that the man Jesus was “just the channel” through which God came into the world.

  • Thank you for your post Jonathan. I think we have to ask just what Elizabeth would have meant by ‘my Lord’.As I understand it by ‘Lord’ she would have meant ‘her Lord and God’ so she was actually calling Mary ‘Mother of my God.’However, I am no scholar of ancient languages I fear, and I am content to be corrected by better brains.