Jesus had a mother! We especially think about His mother, as we look at the Christmas manger and see a very vulnerable Child and His mother and foster father watching over Him. In taking our humanity, Jesus took our human conditions of being born but also the special blessings that God gives us of parents.
Today we celebrate the feast of “Mary, Mother of God.” One of the first prayers that we learned was the “Hail Mary,” in which we call Mary “Mother of God.” That title is very important because it tells us who Jesus is but also it makes it clear that Jesus, in His humanity, had a mother.
That title is very ancient but it didn’t come without a struggle. In the Eastern Church, during the fourth century, Mary was called the Theotókos, which means the one who bore God.
In 428, Nestorius, the Patriarch (Bishop) of Constantinople, modern day Istanbul, was celebrating the Liturgy. He became disturbed when he heard his deacon, Proclus, speak of Mary as the Theotókos. Nestorius insisted that since Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, Mary gave birth to Jesus in His humanity not in His divinity.
A controversy broke out about the use of the title. In 431, the Council of Ephesus was called to address the issue. The Council realized that the controversy involved Mary only in a secondarily way. The essential issue concerned Jesus’ two natures.
The Council emphasized the difference between two words, “person” and “nature”. Each one of us is an individual person. Each of us has human nature but no one of us is human nature.
As an individual person, Jesus is the Son of the eternal Father. The Son took our human nature but He is still a divine Person, the Second Person of the Trinity.
Paul tells that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:7). The child who is born is the Second Person of the Trinity who has a human nature. Mary is the Theotókos, the one who carried God in her womb. In the West, we call her Mater Dei, “Mother of God.”
This title doesn’t just tell us about Jesus’ divinity. It tells us about Jesus’ humanity. Jesus had a mother. As a very small infant, she nourished Him from her own body. She and Joseph taught Him to speak and to walk.
We realize that when we say that Mary is the “Mother of God” we are not saying that she is the Mother of His divinity, which is eternal. St. Thomas Aquinas explains: “We must say that the Blessed Virgin is called the Mother of God, not as though she were the Mother of the Godhead, but because she is the mother, according to His human nature, of the Person who has both the divine and the human nature” (3a. 35, 4, ad 1).
Some people have taught that Jesus’ body was a spiritual body, introduced into Mary. Thomas affirms that Christ’s body was taken from Mary: “The Blessed Virgin Mary is in truth and by nature the Mother of Christ… Christ’s body was taken from the Virgin Mother, and formed from her purest blood (3a. 35, 3).
Although the conception of Christ was supernatural, Mary was a true mother in the physical sense: “On the part of the mother, this nativity was natural, but on the part of the operation of the Holy Ghost it was supernatural. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is the true and natural Mother of Christ” (3a. 35, 3, ad 2).
Some have taught that Christ was conceived as a human first and later, the Son of God assumed the existing human: “Since, therefore, the human nature was taken by the Divine Person in the very beginning of the conception it follows that it can be truly said that God was conceived and born of the Virgin. Now from this is a woman called a man’s mother, that she conceived him and gave birth to him. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is truly called the Mother of God” (3a. 35, 4).
Mary is the connection between Jesus and His Jewish ancestry. St. Paul wrote: “…of their race, according to the flesh is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:5). St. Thomas affirms: “He is not of the Jews except through the Blessed Virgin. Therefore He who is ‘above all things, God blessed forever,’ is truly born of the Blessed Virgin as of His Mother” (3a. 35, 4, ad 1).
Thomas asserts that real nature of Christ’s sonship to Mary: “Christ is really the Son of the Virgin Mother through the real relation of her motherhood to Christ” (3a. 35, 5).
Before the Incarnation, Christ existed eternally. As a result of the Incarnation, Christ took on a real relation as Son to Mary: “Eternal filiation does not depend on a temporal mother, but together with this eternal filiation we understand a certain temporal relation dependent on the mother, in respect of which relation Christ is called the Son of His Mother” (3a. 35, 5, ad 2).
At times, in history, some Christians have not taken Christ’s humanity as seriously as it should be taken. Jesus’ having a mother demonstrates the reality of His humanity.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, give the part of the Summa, which in this case, is the third. The particular question follows. In this case it is question 35. This is followed by the particular article, such as 3, 4, or 5. If the reference is a response to an objection that Thomas raised at the beginning of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to” is given along with number of the objection.