Joseph Farah, author, syndicated columnist and founder/editor of WorldNetDaily, wants you to understand that Mary is not the Mother of God.
He means well, but he’s wrong.
Writing on WorldNetDaily on December 29, Farah responded to a comment from a reader who had tried to explain why Catholics venerate Mary as the Mother of God. Farah, who describes himself as a messianic Jew, disagreed–citing several scriptures which, while true, didn’t address the essential question. “Jesus was God, and the Creator of all things,” he tried to argue, and so it could not be that the Creator also owed his existence to one of his creations.
To his credit, Farah then explained the high esteem with which he regarded Mary:
“Mary-Miriam is not diminished because we don’t call her the mother of God. She was chosen among all the women who ever lived to be the mother of Jesus-Yeshua, so that He could die for our sins, be our Atoner, Redeemer, King and High Priest. Isn’t that more than sufficient to hold her in the highest regard, blessed among all women and the handmaid of the Lord?”
But what Farah is unable to fathom is that the all-powerful God, who is the creator of all living things, could have created one perfect being for the express purpose of welcoming His Divine Son to the world. That doesn’t mean that Mary “created” her son–any more than any earthly mother is the creator of her child. Rather, a woman offers her body as a welcoming place for the child created by God. Likewise, Mary nested the growing body of the Christ under her heart, then nurtured Him through infancy and toddlerhood, until He grew to adulthood to fulfill His mission of salvation.
So why, then, does the Catholic Church call Mary the “Mother of God”?
The title actually protects, not the identity of Mary, but that of Christ Himself. In the fifth century, some theologians—Nestorius prominent among them—began to teach that Mary was the Mother of Jesus, but not of God. Nestorius debated the unity of Christ’s natures, saying that Mary gave birth to his human nature but not his divine nature.
Pope Celestine disagreed, asserting that Jesus’ two natures—fully God and fully man—could not be divided. Supported in his teaching by St. Cyril of Alexandria, Pope Celestine convened an ecumenical council at Ephesus, Mary’s place of residence in her old age, to discuss the issue. The bishops, all 200 of them, agreed that Mary was indeed the Mother of God (called, in Greek, the Theotokos or “God-Bearer”).
According to Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple on the octave of his birth (celebrated on January 1). As the new year begins, the Church honors Mary in her role as Mother of God.
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THE COUNCIL OF EPHESUS, AND THE PROTESTANT MISUNDERSTANDING
The Council of Ephesus was truly “ecumenical,” or worldwide, because the split which came about as a result of the Protestant Reformation had not yet occurred–so the bishops gathered at Ephesus truly represented all of Christendom.
The Council of Ephesus, with its definitive teaching on Mary’s role, is commemorated in the worlds largest handmade stained glass church window, located in the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky. The cathedral’s north transept window, measuring 67 feet in length by 24 feet wide, depicts the bishops gathered at Ephesus, where they settled once and for all the nature of Jesus’ identity.
Some years ago, my husband and I attended a family wedding in northern Kentucky. The following morning we woke in our Covington hotel room, peered out the window, and spotted the basilica’s steeple across the horizon. Hoping to find the church, we hopped in the car and set off to explore. As we arrived at the Cathedral Basilica, a busload of students from Wheaton College was unloading at the door—and we followed them into the church for what must have been a most unusual theology lesson for that group of evangelicals!
Ask a Protestant from the Reformed or Evangelical tradition what is his greatest problem with the Catholic Church, and chances are, he’ll answer “Mary.” Many, if not most, members of mainline Protestant denominations can quickly offer a laundry list of concerns about Catholic Marian dogmas: Mary’s perpetual virginity, her assumption into heaven, her immaculate conception (that is, that Mary herself, as the “ark” which held the nascent Christ Child, was preserved from all sin by God in order to be a worthy vessel for the Divine Presence). The idea of praying to Mary (who is venerated, not “worshipped,” by Catholics) is also a source of division.
But if pressed, the same Protestant is likely to admit that he has studied the Church’s teachings on Mary very little or not at all, and that he has not seriously explored the rich history of Marian devotion—back, even, to the earliest days of the Church.
It’s a little known fact that Martin Luther to his death believed the Marian dogmas which are today considered to be “Catholic,” and he approved of Marian paintings and statues in the churches of his time. Throughout his life, Luther had a deep devotion to the rosary and to Mary.
Marianne Stokes Madonna and Child Joseph Farah, by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Joseph Farah) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Ephesus Window at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, via Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Farah, by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Joseph Farah) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Ephesus Window at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, via Wikimedia Commons