Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
In the year 428, there was a raging controversy in the Church over whether Mary could be called Mother of God—Theotokos in Greek. The dispute pitted Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, against Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt. Nestorius claimed that Mary is the mother only of the human Jesus, not of the divine Christ, who existed from all eternity and had no mother or birth. Cyril denounced Nestorius and insisted that the union of divinity and humanity in Christ was so complete that Mary undoubtedly was the Mother of God, for the child she bore was always true God.
This debate involved more than the theologians and scholars; it galvanized the monks and ordinary people to riot in Constantinople. Excommunications were flying from both sides, and the dispute grew so hot that the emperor called a council at Chalcedon to resolve the dispute.
What made this issue of Christ’s divinity and humanity so volatile and so crucial for these people? They believed that their salvation was at stake. For if Christ were not God, he could not save us from our sins, and if he were not fully human, he could not represent the rest of us human beings in his saving work.
In the end, a formula was agreed upon to speak of Christ as “true God and true man,” having two natures in one being, united yet distinct. Mary could rightly be called the Mother of God. The theologians and the bishops realized that, while no one can explain this mystery in words and concepts, people could grasp it in faith. The best representation of the great mystery of Christ’s divinity and humanity is Mary, Mother of God. As she treasured and pondered the mystery of the child who was both her offspring and her creator, she accepted the mystery without resolving it. She presents the mystery for the entire world to see and adore, even if she–or they–could not fully fathom and explain it.
The path of our salvation is a mystery to us, fraught with contradictions and seeming impossibilities. How could I, who am so weak and sinful–so human–be inspired by the Spirit to call God, “Abba, Father?” Like Mary, you and I can only treasure the gift of our salvation, the gift of being made God’s children and heirs. Like Mary, we too can only worship in awe the One who is our brother and our God, and therefore our Savior.
Reflection by Abbot Benedict Neenan, OSB