Mother of God; Mother of the Church

I generally do not get fired up when I read a papal homily or speech, but I was fascinated by the Holy Father’s address on Mary, which he gave to the bishop’s synod.   in the address, Pope Benedict explains why the Church refers to Mary the mother of Jesus as “Mother of God” and “Mother of the Church.”

Why the excitement?  Because the Holy Father cites the sacred author Luke, who wrote the third gospel and Acts of the Apostles, as well as St. Paul, as well as the Book of Revelation, to defend the Marian titles “Mother of God” and “Mother of the Church.”  And this is, after all, a bible blog.

This address is Pope Benedict at his best – defending church teaching with erudition, clarity and good reference to Holy Scripture.

Dear brothers and sisters,

On October 11 1962, 48 years ago, Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican Council II. At the time, on October 11, the feast day of the Divine Motherhood of Mary was celebrated and, with this gesture, with this date, Pope John wished to entrust the whole Council into the motherly hands and maternal heart of the Madonna. We too begin on October 11th, we too wish to entrust this Synod, with all its problems, with all its challenges, with all its hopes, to the maternal heart of the Madonna, the Mother of God.

Pius XI, in 1930, introduced this feast day, 1600 years after the Council of Ephesus, which had legitimated, for Mary, the title of Theotokos, Dei Genitrix [Mother of God]. With this great word Dei Genitrix, Theotokos, the Council of Ephesus had summarized the entire doctrine of Christ, of Mary, the whole of the doctrine of redemption. So it would be worthwhile to reflect briefly, for a moment, on what was said during the Council of Ephesus, on what this day means.

In reality, Theotokos is a courageous title. A woman is the Mother of God. One could say: how is this possible? God is eternal, he is the Creator. We are creatures, we are in time: how could a human being be the Mother of God, of the Eternal, since we are all in time, we are all creatures? Therefore one can understand that there was some strong opposition, in part, to this term. The Nestorians used to say: one can speak about Christotokos, yes, but Theotokos no: Theos, God, is beyond, beyond the events of history. But the Council decided this, and thus it enlightened the adventure of God, the greatness of what he has done for us. God did not remain in Himself: he went out, He united in such a way, so radically to this man, Jesus, that this man Jesus is God, and if we speak about Him, we can also speak about God. Not only was a man born that had something to do with God, but in Him was born God on earth. God came from himself. But we could also say the opposite: God drew us to Himself, so that we are not outside of God, but we are within the intimate, the intimacy of God Himself.

Aristotelian philosophy, as we well know, tells us that between God and man there is only an unreciprocated relationship. Man refers to God, but God, the Eternal, is in Himself, He does not change: He cannot have this relation today and another relationship tomorrow. He is within Himself, He does not have ad extra relations. It is a very logical term, but it is also a word that makes us despair: so God has no relationship with me. With the incarnation, with the event of the Theotokos, this has been radically changed, because God drew us into Himself and God in Himself is the relationship and allows us to participate in His interior relationship. Thus we are in His being Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are within His being in relationship, we are in relationship with Him and He truly created the relationship with us. At that moment, God wished to be born from woman and remain Himself: this is the great event. And thus we can understand the depth of the act by Pope John, who entrusted the Council, Synodal Assembly to the central mystery, to the Mother of God who is drawn by the Lord into Himself, and thus all of us with Her.

The Council began with the icon of the Theotokos. At the end, Pope Paul VI recognized the same title of Mater Ecclesiae to the Madonna. And these two icons, which begin and end the Council, are intrinsically linked, and are, in the end, one single icon. Because Christ was not born like any other individual. He was born to create a body for Himself: He was born – as John says in Chapter 12 of his Gospel – to attract all to Him and in Him. He was born – as it says in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians – to summarize the whole world, He was born as the firstborn of many brothers, He was born to unite the cosmos in Him, so that He is the Head of a great Body. Where Christ is born, the movement of summation begins, the moment of the calling begins, of construction of his Body, of the Holy Church. The Mother of Theos, the Mother of God, is the Mother of the Church, because she is the Mother of He who came to unite all in His resurrected Body.

Saint Luke leads us to understand this in the parallel between the first chapter of his book and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which repeat the same mystery on two different levels. In the first chapter of the Gospel the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and thus she gives birth to and gives us the Son of God. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Mary is at the center of Jesus’ disciples who are praying all together, pleading with the cloud of the Holy Spirit. And thus from the believing Church, with Mary at its heart, is born the Church, the Body of Christ. This dual birth is the only birth of the Christus totus, of the Christ who embraces the world and all of us.

Birth in Bethlehem, birth at the Last Supper. Birth of the Infant Jesus, birth of the Body of Christ, of the Church. These are two events or just one event. But between the two lie truly the Cross and the Resurrection. And only through the Cross comes the path towards the totality of Christ, towards His resurrected Body, towards the universalization of His being in the unity of the Church. And thus, bearing in mind that only from the wheat fallen to earth can a great harvest be reaped, from the Lord pierced on the Cross comes the universality of His disciples reunited in this His Body, dead and risen.

Keeping this connection between Theotokos and Mater ecclesiae in mind, we turn our attention to the last book of the Holy Scripture, Revelation, where, in chapter 12, we can find this synthesis. The woman clothed with the sun, with twelve stars over her head and the moon at her feet, gives birth. And gives birth with a cry of pain, gives birth with great suffering. Here the Marian mystery is the mystery of Bethlehem extended to the cosmic mystery. Christ is always reborn in all generations and thus takes on, gathers humanity within Himself. And this cosmic birth is achieved in the cry of the Cross, in the suffering of the Passion. And the blood of martyrs belongs to this cry of the Cross.

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