In his weekly "Bulletin Inserts" this past Sunday, Fr. Wells wrote:
"When we say, as we must say, that the Virgin Mary was the Mother of God, we are saying quite emphatically that the One to whom she gave birth was none other than God in the flesh. Her Son Jesus Christ was and is Deity Incarnate. So the title 'Mother of God' at bottom line is not a statement about Mary herself but a statement about the One to whom she was Mother."
Like me, Fr. Wells is about as much on the Reformed and -- according to Anglican use of the word -- Protestant (emphasis on the first syllable, pro) side as Continuing Churchmen tend to be. And, like me, he says that we "must" call the Blessed Virgin Mary "the Mother of God." Frankly, if Martin Luther insisted on the same point (which he did), and even the way out Urich Zwingli insisted on the same point (which he did), it ought to be no surprise that two priests of the Anglican Catholic Church say so.
But, someone may contend, is not the word "must" a bit strong? Why would Fr. Wells and Fr. Hart say that we "must" call Mary the Mother of God? Is that not merely optional? Let me say, with all the confusion of the last several centuries, I am not about to declare someone anathema if he cannot bring himself to say "Mother of God" about the Blessed Virgin mother of our Lord. But, once we understand that the title is not about Mary herself as much as it is about Jesus Christ, we must find it acceptable. In fact, it is shorthand for "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God...And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:1,2,14)
The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) has been much aligned in recent decades, blamed for creating division and banishing the Alexandrian Church. It was Eric L. Mascall, writing in 1980, who rehabilitated the reputation of the fourth [O]Ecumenical Council, getting to a simple but profound point early on in his book, Whatever Happened to the Human Mind?1
"What, let us now inquire, is the relevance of Chalcedon to Christian belief today?...First, I would suggest, its insistence upon the reality and completeness of Jesus' humanity. Orthodox Christians in the world of today have had to devote so much effort to defending the divinity of Christ against attacks from within as well as from outside the Christian community, that both they and their opponents have sometimes forgotten that Traditional Christology, with its roots in Chalcedon, is committed no less strongly to defending, in its concrete fullness, his humanity."
The teaching, defended and clarified at Chalcedon, reaches its greatest point in this passage:
"So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer (Theotokos) as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us"
"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8,9).
Recall also his words,
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received.." (I Cor. 15:1-3a)
The key word is "received." The truth taught, defended and proclaimed by the Church has been received, not imagined or created by men. Paul says "But though we" preach a message other than the message of the Gospel that has been received. Even the Apostles themselves would have been anathema were they to change course, and preach some other message. The Gospel has been revealed, therefore received, not invented. So, at Chalcedon in 451 AD, the bishops of the Church declared that they followed the doctrine already taught and received by the Church. They had nothing new to say.
In the above translation we find the Greek word Theotokos translated "God-bearer." Fair enough. We have seen the word translated "Birth-Giver of God." Also, fair enough. But, that translation seems strained, coming across as a fancy and impressive linguistic feat, or academic acrobatic stunt, to avoid the obvious word, "mother." She bore the Lord in her womb, and gave birth to him. The word for that, in mere human language, without all the heroic efforts not to sound "too catholic" (whatever that silly phrase could possibly mean), is "mother." To say that God the Son, or the Word (λόγος ) has a mother, is to say that He has been made flesh, that he may dwell among us in the tabernacle of a complete human nature.
When you say that Mary is the Mother of God, you are saying very much the same thing that you say when you confess that "Jesus is the Lord." As I wrote once for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity:
"If you know, and can say with all your heart, that Jesus is the Lord, you are saying that He is one with the Father. You are saying, therefore, that 'the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.' You are saying that God the Son has taken human nature into His Divine Person, our created nature into his uncreated Being. You are saying that He has assumed what is alien to Him, our humanity, as the One who is wholly other from every created thing, to forever transform human nature by making us partakers of the Divine Nature, as is written by the Apostle Peter (II Peter 1:4)."
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." (I John 4:1-3)
Of all the doctrines that our enemy cannot confess, one stands out above all others. It is the doctrine of the Incarnation. That is the one doctrine we must get right in order to have the others right. For, without a true understanding of Jesus Christ, we are like a man buttoning his shirt who begins by getting a button into the wrong buttonhole. Unless he goes back and corrects that first misplaced button, every other button will be in a wrong buttonhole. Unless we can say that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, complete in both natures (φύσις) and yet remaining one Person (ὑπόστασις ) after the union, nothing else we say can be the revealed and received message that is the Gospel.
No wonder, then, that we are warned by St. John the Apostle, that this is the one doctrine that the spirit of Antichrist refuses to confess. That evil spirit of error must profess some other Jesus (II Cor. 11:4), either by denying that Jesus Christ is one with the Father, equal by nature to God as the eternal and only Son, without beginning and without end, not created, but eternally begotten of the Father, as the Holy Spirit is eternal and not created, eternally proceeding from the Father; or, the spirit of error must profess some other Jesus who, even if he is divine, is only a mixture that is part divine and part human, and therefore by nature neither fully God nor fully man, or that has never taken human flesh, true human nature, at all; merely appearing human while leaving no footprints. The different false versions of Jesus make him out to be merely human, like all others -- perhaps a great prophet or teacher, but less than God. Or, they make him out to be a god, created although superior to mere mortals (the polytheism of the Arian heresy), and therefore a lesser god. Or, they allow him perhaps as much as full divinity and equality to the Father, but deny to him a real human nature in which he could die for our sins as the Propitiation and Atonement, and in which he could rise again from the dead to give us immortality. Such a Jesus may be worthy of worship because he is divine; but, he offers us no hope and no salvation.
No wonder the Church has no hesitation in calling Mary the "Fighter against heresy." When we say, as we must, that she is the Mother of God, we have said more than a mouth full. We have confessed that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. We have frustrated the spirit of Antichrist, and confessed the true Jesus; the Jesus Christ who is come in the flesh, the Lord proclaimed in the Gospel that has been revealed, which we have received, and wherein we stand.
1. Mascall, E.L. Whatever Happened to the Human Mind? ( London: SPCK, 1980)