Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mother of God part II

It comes as no surprise that my earlier essay, Mother of God, sparked some debate. For "westerners" who have witnessed proof of genuine Maryiolatry (i.e., treating the Blessed Virgin as if she were a goddess), red flags and notes of caution are quite reasonable. Among some Roman Catholics serious usage of the term "Co-Redemptrix" has been unleashed, which can produce only confusion at best, heresy at worst. Yes, Mary's obedient faith is part of our salvation history, and her involvement was, therefore, very direct. Her emotional suffering at the foot of Christ's cross while he was dying, the sword through her own soul, was also very real (Luke 2:35, John 19:25). But, the term "Co-Redemptrix" may suggest that her mental anguish somehow added to the efficacy of Christ's atonement as the Priest and Sacrifice, which idea is completely wrong. Nothing added to his full payment of our debt of sin, and no one could pay any portion of our debt but Christ himself.

Along with the dangerous "Co-Redemptix" title, other titles given to Mary include some I never use. I refrain from the title "Our Lady." My reason is very simple. When we call Jesus the Lord, as we call also the Father and the Holy Spirit, it is a very special use of the word "Lord." Because the Jewish people ceased to pronounce the Name of God (יְהֹוָה corresponding to our Latin letters YHVH) after returning from captivity in Babylon, it became the normal rule to substitute the word Adonai (אָדוֹןי) when reading aloud from the Torah. The word Adonai means "Lord." Therefore, the use of the Greek word kyrios (κύριος), the standard translation, when used for a Person of the Godhead, that is "the Lord," means more than merely a human master or nobleman. In that context it means God. Therefore, to speak of Mary as "our Lady" makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. God has no consort, and Mary is not the Lady, that is not an equal sharing the Divine nature among the three Persons we call the Lord. I would not accuse anyone of meaning it that way; but, I refrain from so using it. Others may, and I will not judge them unorthodox.

Likewise, I see no reason to use the title "Queen of Heaven." I know about the twelfth chapter of Revelation, and how Mary is mysteriously portrayed there as the chief representative of the people of Israel (as signified by the elements from Joseph's dream about Jacob, that is Israel, and his heirs; the sun, the moon and the eleven stars-Gen. 37:9,10), giving birth to the Messiah. But, that hardly justifies insulting the Blessed Virgin Mary with a title that brings to mind the Ashtoreth (Jeremiah 7:18 & 44:17-25). She deserves better than to be called by such a title, especially concerning Heaven where everyone present sees the throne of God, and concerning which we have no revelation about a queen, and no need. The title "Queen" suggests the need to perpetuate a dynasty. I would not accuse anyone of meaning it that way; but, again, I refrain. Others may use it in good faith, and I will not judge them unorthodox.

But, concerning the title "Mother of God" I say only "amen," without any caveat or red flag whatsoever.

Translating Theotokos

It has been argued that "God-bearer" is a more exact translation of the word Theotokos. I have no argument with that, as an exact translation (though I still insist that "Birth-giver of God" comes across as a heroic, if not silly, measure to avoid the word "mother"). But, the nature of language is such that sometimes an exact translation loses something in...translation. Even if someone may argue that the exact translation suffers no loss, history has assigned the expression "Mother of God" to our common western vocabulary (not only in English, e.g., the Spanish Madre de Dios). I understand the argument that the ancient Church could have used an unmistakable expression, incapable of any other translation, and chose not to do so.

Perhaps, because they were writing in a time of emergence from Pagan culture, the ancient writers in the Church really did mean to keep their distance from any suggestion that the Godhead has an origin in some sort of mother. But, even so, it is unrealistic to suppose that, in modern times, anyone anywhere might think that Christians believe in an emergent Deity coming from an origin that gave birth to the Divine Nature. Even if the expression "Mother of God" could have been misunderstood in the Hellenistic culture of the fourth century, today the shocking boldness of the expression, loaded with its built-in paradoxical punch, creates the demand for an immediate resolution of the logical tension it creates. The only resolution that the informed mind can provide is in Scripture: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us..." (John 1:14). The expression, "Mother of God" leads directly to the doctrine of the Incarnation, without any possible alternative destination.

The expression states clearly that Jesus Christ is fully Divine and fully human. Therefore, the term fights against Arianism on one hand, and at least one form of Gnosticism on the other. That is, by affirming that Mary's Son, the Man Christ Jesus, is rightly called God, it refutes Arianism. By affirming that this same Person rightly called God is Mary's Son, the Man Christ Jesus, it refutes the Gnosticism of Marcion, the Jesus who merely appeared to be human, but who left no footprints behind him because he was not really human. Against these heresies we use the expression, "Mother of God" for the Blessed Virgin Mary. In saying that, we say that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.

"Western" Trinitarianism, apologia

We were told, in comments, that the word "God" properly speaks of the Father only (an unanticipated objection, since it is "God" that puts the Theo in Theotokos). This view is commonly expressed, normally by converts to Orthodoxy or even by lifelong Orthodox Christians, but only by those who want to place far too much emphasis on supposed differences between Orthodoxy and "Western" Christianity. In trying to be as different from "Western" Christians as they can, some of their writers go too far. For example, Fr. Thomas Hopko has made too much of the distinction between Ho Theos and Theos (τὸν θεόν and θεόν) in John 1:1. That is, between how the grammar added the word ho (τὸν), which means only "the" when speaking of the Father. But, the simple fact is, the word Theos itself is what truly matters. The Second half of John 1:1, translated into English very literally, would be "And the Word (λόγος) was with the God (τὸν θεόν), and the Word (λόγος) was God (θεόν)." But, the same word, Theos, is unmistakable.

At this point, it is reasonable to ask about verse two. Why would John repeat a point already made? "The same was in the beginning with the God (οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. )." The answer is, John was not repeating the same point, for sheer redundancy would have been unnecessary. Clearly, this third invocation of Theos refers to the Holy Spirit. Like the Word (who is also called the Son), the Holy Spirit derives His existence from the Father. In language that points to truth beyond our comprehension, the Gospel of John teaches that the Word is the only begotten Son, that he is eternally begotten of the Father; and it teaches that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. Neither the Son nor the Spirit were or are created; both are equal to the Father, and yet both come from the Father, One we say begotten the Other proceeding. Both are eternal, without beginning or end; both are equal to the Father, each Person having the same uncreated Nature (physis, φύσις) as God.

To get to the point, about John 1:1,2, if the Father is somehow the only Person properly called "God" because He is "the God" or Ho Theos, why is the Holy Spirit, in verse 2, who derives His eternal existence from the Father no less than does the Son, also called Ho Theos? The simple answer is this: Ho, or "the," is a separate word that does not change the meaning of Theos. The issue is grammar, not meaning. To suggest otherwise leads us to the dangerous business of making a distinction between degrees of Divinity -- not Degrees in Divinity as an academic subject, but degrees to which a Person (or hypostasis - ὑπόστασις) is more or less God, or perhaps merely a lesser "god" in some sort of pantheon. In attacking the "Western" concept of the Trinity, with its somewhat more pronounced emphasis on the equality of each Person of the Trinity, some of our Orthodox brethren lay the unstable foundation for arguing the Arian heresy. They will not make that argument themselves (thank God for such mercies), nonetheless they cannot help but provide the rationale for those who do.

To suggest that the Son is God, but not quite as much God as the Father, would be heresy. These "Eastern" Orthodox Christians do not go there themselves, or so I hope, but they make straight the way to that heresy. I wonder why not being "Western" is worth the risk to them. To hear some of them use phrases like "the idolatry of the Son," ought to send chills up our spines. I would urge them to stop worrying about the alleged dangers of "Western" Christianity, and make a better effort to steer clear of the Arian heresy. They need to do so even if they risk sounding like the allegedly inferior "Western" Christians, those they seem ashamed to call brethren.

When we say "God" we speak in light of the full revelation of the Divine Name, into which we were baptized, that is, "the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 28:19) Obviously, when we use the word "God," the context gives us all the clarity we need. When we speak of the Son of God, we emphasize the distinction between the Father and the Son. When we say "the Spirit of God," we make the distinction between the Father and the Holy Spirit. In fact, when Saint Paul and Saint Peter wrote the words, "the Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9, Philippians 1;19, I Peter 1:11), they made a distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Son.

Likewise, when we call the Blessed Virgin Mary by the title "Mother of God," it should be obvious to everyone that we speak of God the Son, or Word. "And the Word was God...and the Word was made flesh." Without context, the word "God" all by itself, speaks to us of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. That is how Saint John used it, and therefore what he taught us, in the opening of his Gospel.


Anonymous said...

Indubitably, history has made "Mother of God" the overwhelmingly most common translation of the Greek "Theotokos." Indeed, for example, I am completely unaware of any English hymnody that employs the translation "God-bearer."

That being said, I would still quibble with the notion that a faithful proper Anglican "must" agree that the popular, common translation is the best one. I find or idiom an unfortunate one, which may explain why the vast majority of Anglicans have tended to prefer to refer to Mary as Mother of our Lord or as the Blessed Virgin rather "Mother of God". Just saying ...

Still, Fr. Hart is undoubtedly correct that a proper, formulary Anglican is bound to accept the central theological pronouncement of the Third General Council, which is that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the "Theotokos." And should an Anglican choose to tranlate the term into English--most Eastern Orthodox who worship in English still refuse to translate "Theotokos," as we Anglicans haven't translated "Amen" or "Hallelujah"-- he certainly must employ an accurate English translation whether it be literal or idiomatic. Good catechism, then, will have to bear the burden of orthodox explication of the term, just as it must with the phrase "God in three 'persons.'"

Steve said...

I think you are somehow assuming everyone has advanced theological degrees so that they know that the term "Mother of God" means something different than what it normally conveys. I would suggest that all evangelicals, most Roman Catholics, all Hindu, animist, Buddhist and atheist people misunderstand the term to mean what it appears to mean.
For that reason, I think it far wiser to drop the term, for the sake of communication, and use the term God-bearer, Theotokos, for that IS after all, what the council decreed, it is accurate, it says what needed to be said, and communicates correctly to the six billion plus people to whom you are unintentionally misleading by using the term. That isn't even as close to hair-splitting as the Athanasian Creed is, yet it needed to be that precise.

I have no problem with Mary as Our Lady, due to the whole Queen-Mum thing. I don't agree with Roman Catholic Marian apologists who use a couple of incidents of court intrigue in the Old Testament to suggest that it is an office more powerful than that of queen, making Mary essentially our high priestess, through whom we have to go to get to Christ. The Queen Mum in England was dearly beloved and honored, but she, like queen mums in the OT, had no actual authority, IIRC.

We have to communicate, and to persist in communicating such as misleads people into serious error, is something we must reject. I would rather speak 10 words people could understand, than 10,000 words that don't mean what the listeners understand them as meaning.
As personally important as it apparently is to you, I would suggest you keep "Mother of God" for private use, much like a "prayer language".

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Stephen wrote:

I would suggest that all evangelicals, most Roman Catholics, all Hindu, animist, Buddhist and atheist people misunderstand the term to mean what it appears to mean.

This suggests that it "appears to mean" something other than what it means. If so, what does it appear to mean, and what is your evidence? Inasmuch as everyone knows that Christianity teaches that God is without beginning and without end, and the Creator of all things, I see no reason to believe that the term in question appears to mean anything other than what I have said: "The shocking boldness of the expression, loaded with its built-in paradoxical punch, creates the demand for an immediate resolution of the logical tension it creates...The expression, "Mother of God" leads directly to the doctrine of the Incarnation, without any possible alternative destination."

We have to communicate, and to persist in communicating such as misleads people into serious error, is something we must reject.

If you can document anything that shows that anyone actually believes it "appears to mean" something erroneous, please do so. If you suggest that anyone thinks we believe that Mary is the origin of Divinity, I must reply by saying, I find it difficult to imagine anyone anywhere in the world actually being that stupid. I will continue to believe that no such idiot exists, unless you can find one for me and document his existence.

As personally important as it apparently is to you...

You may want to read my essays over again, inasmuch as nothing in them addresses anything subjective. It is not about anything important to me personally, but about objective theological communication. I think I made my case, and that your argument requires documentation.

AFS1970 said...

Perhaps I am being too dense here, but I am still not seeing much difference in these two phrases. Certainly not enough to prefer one over the other.

I also find the argument that Anglican Catholics should cease to do something because some non Anglican protestants think that Catholics who are not Anglican believe something, to be a poor argument at best.

If we let ourselves be guided by what Rome believes or even appears to believe we would probably still be Roman Catholic. If we did the same with the other Protestant churches, we would certainly not be Catholic anymore. So to be guided by the misconceptions of those who we freely admit are misguided on a number of issues, seems to be at best, an odd path to take.

William Tighe said...

A bit of Greek:

"God-bearer" would literally be "Theophoros" in Greek (from "Theos" and the verb "pherein," to bear); Ignatius of Antioch once described himself as "Theophoros." "Theotokos" comes from "Theos" plus the verb "tiktein" (cf. the old English word "thain" from "thegn" meaning someone, a boy or page that carried his master's accouterments, e.g., "swordthain"), but in koine Greek it seems to have had the connotation of "carry closely," "carry in the womb."

"God-bearer" is thus, I think, rather less faithful to the sense of the original than "Mother of God;" the only thing that would be "better" in a literalistic sense would be something "Birth-Giver of God," which is indeed the sense of the "normal" Latin translations of "Theotokos," either "Deipara" or "Dei Genetrix, but which would be barbarous in English, as well as open, more open even, to the same objections seen on these threads and elsewhere to the phrase "Mother of God." It has the added advantages that it is an ancient ecumenical phrase and one which, like "homoousios," can quite properly be cast in the faces of those ignorant persons and captious heretics who take exception to it.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Tighe is in my opinion correct, and his distinction between "Theotokos" and "Theophoros" is helpful. But how many sermons have been preached developing the thought that has the Blessed Virgin cnceived and brought forth the Word of God, so we must carry that Word into all the world?

I strongly prefer "Mother of God" to "Theotokos" because the Greek term has come to be a euphemism, a solemn-sounding word which gives no offense to Protestants and might even earn us brownie points with (everyone give a wistful sigh) the EO's.

But that brings to mind the fact that the EO's commonly speak of St James of Jerusalem (feast day Oct 23) as "Brother of God." The Greek, as far as I know, is "ho adelphos theou." Or is it Theadelphos?

Anonymous said...

If one might add a 'lex inscribendi' to the known two, it is common to find a Mu Rho and a Theta Upsilon, each with superscript abbreviation mark, for 'Meter Theou' on Greek and Russian icons. In the book by Popova, Smirnova, and Cortesi I consulted - with handy lists of most frequent inscriptions and abbreviations - the earliest example I could find was early 11th century. They list an abbreviation including the first and last two letters of the Slavonic 'Bogoroditsa' (translating 'Theotokos'), but in all the Russian icons they choose to reproduce, down the ages, where I can make anything out, it's always the Greek for 'Meter Theou'!

It is pleasing to recall Lancelot Andrewe's 'Preces privatae', the Intercession for the Fifth Day of the Week, as translated from the Greek by J.H. Newman (first published in 1840), quoting the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, "Aid, save, pity, and preserve them, O God, in Thy grace. Making mention of the all-holy, undefiled, and more than blessed Mary, Mother of God and Ever-Virgin, with all saints, let us commend ourselves, and each other, and all our life, to Christ our God."


Anonymous said...

'The Greek, as far as I know, is "ho adelphos theou." Or is it Theadelphos?'

The latter, usually.


AFS1970 said...

No matter if the Greek is ho adelphos theou or Theadelphos, the translation into English leads us to Brother of God, how then can we find that any more acceptable than Mother of God? While various historians have interpreted Brother of God to actually mean Brother in a spiritual sense or Step Brother, Half Brother or even Cousin (by far the oddest to my non theologian mind). Despite this people are still comfortable using the title Brother of God to describe any and all of these relationships. So it would seem to me that if one is comfortable with the phrase Brother of God to describe any and all of these conditions, how can we be uncomfortable with the far less ambiguous Mother of God?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...or even Cousin (by far the oddest to my non theologian mind)...

Not odd at all. The New Testament language was Greek, but the culture of the Holy Family was entirely Jewish. The use of the word for brother, ach (אָח), included all close relatives by implication. For example, in Genesis 13:8 Abram says to Lot, "are we not brethren?" The Hebrew word is the plural form of the same word, achim (אַחִים).

This is important for guarding another true teaching, that Mary is ever-Virgin. Yes, Jesus had achim, but that does not mean that Mary had other children. Indeed, if she had, her sons or sons in law, would have been responsible for her care as she approached old age. But, the Lord entrusted her to the care of Saint John (John 19:27).

Anonymous said...

The most interesting thing I have read about the 'brothers' is by John McHugh in his 'The Mother of Jesus in the New Testament' (London: Darton, 1975). I won't attempt to summarize, but the hypothesis that he suggests alone "explains all the references in the gospels" and "is confirmed by the testimony of early tradition", is to see Joseph as the brother of Mary the mother of James and Joses (whose husband's name is unrecorded) and of Clopas who together with his wife (also named) Mary are the parents of Simeon; he further contends that the choice of the Greek word for 'brothers' suits best with the supposition not only of their being 'cousins' but also at least James and Joses being 'foster-brothers', "brought up in the same household as Jesus".

Do we know how old the 'Theou' usage for 'brothers' - and 'ancestors' - is?


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Do we know how old the 'Theou' usage for 'brothers' - and 'ancestors' - is?

Gal.1:19: "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother."

Quite old indeed.

Anonymous said...

I have in fact heard Romanian Orthodox nuns here in the States translate Theotokos as "Birth-Giver of God." Now I understand why. Still, typically, Orthodox will don't translate Theotokos into English even why they otherwise translate the Liturgy into English. Perhaps there is some wisdom to this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father Robert. Though I did not state it in so many words, I was especially wondering about the customary use of "Theou" as well as, or even more frequently than, "tou Kyriou", in things like icon inscriptions and commemoratory or intercessionary texts.

Picking up Death Bredon's latest point, could it be that 'Theotokos' is often untranslated because of compactness? The compactness of grammatical synthetic possibility which Greek allows - you could (I suppose) but certainly need not say 'Tokos (tou) Theou'.

But also a compactness of meaning from 'tiktein': not only 'bear' in the womb but 'bring forth' (Matt. 1:23 KJV translation of 'teksetai'). (Tangentially, was this a text that convinced Zwingli and Bullinger of the 'Scripturality' of 'Aeiparthenos', 'Ever-Virgin'?)

My meagre dictionary resources tell me that 'tiktein' in Homeric usage could also mean 'procreate' - with reference to women as well as men. Could this meaning be alive to the Ephesian Council Fathers, among others?

Hearing 'Theotokos' could then mean hearing something like 'Ever-Virgin Mother who conceived, bore, and brought forth God the Son'.