Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What Do We Really Believe About Mary's Relationship To The Trinity?

I've heard many different versions of exactly what Catholics teach about Mary as Mother of God and her subsequent relationship to the Triune God from non-Catholics. Not a single one quotes from a Catechism or Church Council and so misinformation abounds. I've had Jehovah's Witnesses at my door telling me that the Catholic Church elevates Mary to the mother of the Trinity, making her divine and omnipotent and so let's set the record straight...

There are many explanations of Mary's status as Mother of God, but the one that is clearest comes from the 11th Council of Toledo in 675:

In this Son of God we believe there are two natures, one of divinity, the other of humanity, which the one person of Christ so united in himself that the divinity can never be separated from the humanity, nor the humanity from the divinity. Christ, therefore, is perfect God and perfect man in the unity of one person; but it does not follow, because we have asserted there are two natures in the Son, that there are two persons in Him, lest--which God forbid--a quaternity be predicated of the Trinity.

For God the Word has not received the person of man, but the nature, and to the eternal power of the divinity He has united the temporal substance of flesh.

Likewise we believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of one substance, but we do not say that the Virgin Mary gave birth to the unity of the Trinity, but only to the Son, who alone assumed our nature in the unity of His person.

Also, we must believe that the entire Trinity accomplished the Incarnation of the Son of God, because the works of the Trinity are inseparable. However, only the Son took the form of a servant in the singleness of His person, not in the unity of His divine nature; in what is proper to the Son, not in what is common to the Trinity; and this form was adapted to Him for unity of person so that the Son of God and the Son of man is one Christ, that is, Christ in these two natures exists in three substances; of the Word, which must refer to the essence of God alone, of the body, and of the soul, which pertain to true man.

He has, therefore, in Himself the twofold substance of His divinity and our humanity. We understand, however, that by the fact that he proceeded from God the Father without beginning, He was born only, for He was neither made nor predestined; by the fact, however, that He was born of the Virgin Mary, we must believe that he was born, made, and predestined.

Yet both births in Him are marvelous, because He was both begotten by the Father without a mother before all ages, and in the end of ages He was born of a mother without a father; He who, however, according as He is God created Mary, according as He is man was created from Mary; He is both father and son of His mother Mary.

Likewise by that fact that He is God, He is equal to the Father; by the fact that He is man, He is less than the Father. Likewise we must believe that He is both greater and less than Himself; for in the form of God even the Son Himself is greater than Himself on account of the humanity He assumed, than which the divinity is greater; in the form, however, of a servant He is less than Himself, that is, in His humanity which is recognized as less than His divinity.

This simple misunderstanding among both Catholics and non-Catholics about exactly what the Church teaches has added
fuel to the fires of separation needlessly. Catholic oftentimes don't know their faith and so they explain Mary's role in alvation history improperly, saying things that make Protestants ill. Meanwhile, non-Catholics make assumptions (pun intended) about Catholic Marian teachings in bad faith
based upon hearsay of a culture that has perpetuated an anti-Catholic ideology. Bad information breeds bad information and so mainstream Catholics have a responsibility to our
separated brethren to, at the very least, get the teachings right, explain them fully, know where
to refer them if we cannot, and let them make informed
decisions of faith.


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