Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Theotokos; Mary, Mother of God?

Perhaps it is the fact that I recently heard a discussion (really an argument) on Catholic Radio between a Roman Catholic and a (fundamentalist sounding) Protestant. Maybe, it is due to the recent Lectionary passages focusing on Mary. I don't know, but the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been on my mind a bit lately.

It is unfortunate that so many Protestant Christians seem to be quite fearful of Mary (if not of her, at least of spending much time talking about her). As I have recently said in a sermon, Mary is a fantastic example for us of holiness of heart and life. She certainly is (or ought to be) a role model for Christians.

Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly the Protestant prejudice over against our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers (yes, our sisters and brothers in Christ), along with their seemingly inordinate attention to Mary, not to mention the popular notions of Mary-worship, that has left many protestants reluctant to spend much time talking about the mother of our Lord.

There are, of course, some real doctrinal issues concerning Mary, on which Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians do, indeed, differ significantly. Those issues only add to the Protestant "fear" of Mary.

However, it would likely come as a real shock to most contemporary Wesleyans to discover that the perpetual virginity of Mary was NOT one of those doctrinal differences for our spiritual forefather. The fact is John Wesley affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary. (Check out his Letter to a Roman Catholic.) Still, that issue is not the particular focus of this article.

Rather, the focus of this article is the use of the term Theotokos. Ought Mary be referred to as the "Mother of God?" - Admittedly, I've not done much research, and in many ways, most of this is off the top of my head, but here it goes . . .

Rome and Constantinople, of course, affirm this terminology for Mary. Protestantism, almost universally, denies it. The question is, why? You see, the doctrines surrounding the natures and divinity of Christ as expressed in the Chalcedonian statement are accepted as orthodox among Protestants, as well as Roman Catholics and Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, Protestants have uniformly rejected the use of the term as being objectionable an misleading (cf. Christian Theology, Vol. II, p. 167. Wiley, H. Orton. Beacon Hill. 1952).

Of course, at least one of the objections has to do with the implications that Mary is somehow the mother of God in eternity. God, of course, has always been. God is not created. Mary has not always been. Mary was created. Thus, Mary ought not be call "Mother of God."

Another objection is that "Mother of God" talk could easily lead to Mary-worship, as, indeed, it has done among many Roman Catholics. (The question of whether such is truly the teachings of Rome is moot, in this regard. The reality of popular practice cannot be denied.)

A further objection is that such a title has brought about the lifting of Mary to doctrinal heights which are not found in Scripture.

Again, since I have not spent much time in any real research, I could be missing the truly significant objections. I would be happy for others to fill in the blanks!

Protestants have affirmed that Mary is the Mother of our Lord, but have objected to calling her Mother of God. However, when one looks at the term, itself, not the abuses nor the unnecessary, objectionable implications, I find little reason to object to the term, itself.

First, the title is not a new invention. It was widespread in the ancient Church, long before the Protestant Reformation. Second, even Rome defines the term in such a way as to fit the Chalcedonian statement. They make clear that the intent of the term is to affirm the full divinity of Jesus. The rest of the objectionable implications of the term, itself, they deny.

Third, the concept, though not the term, is found, even in popular Protestantism. An example of this is the popular Christmas song, Mary, Did You Know?. In that song, the question is asked, "Mary, did you know . . . when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God?" - Any Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian who understands the concept would quickly declare that the song is expressing exactly what is affirmed by the title, "Mother of God."

Finally, we Wesleyan Christians are happy to affirm the same concept in our own hymnody. After all, don't we (thanks to Charles Wesley!) enthusiastically sing, "Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?" That "God" who died for us (viz., Jesus the Christ), we also confess to be "born of the Virgin Mary."

So, what is the point of all of this? Do I intend to start using the title, or am I advocating the use of it by others? - Not really. There are still far too many confusions and possible, unintended implications.

However, I think the point is, this is not really something Protestants ought to get worked up about. This ought not be something that divides Protestant Christians from their Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers. We ought to allow them the liberty to use the terminology when we, while refraining from the terminology, nevertheless affirm its intended meaning through our own doctrine, as well as hymnody and popular expressions.

. . . Of course, as I have said, if I'm missing something, feel free to jump in with your comments!

New Sacramental Life

I'm pleased to announce that the newest edition of Sacramental Life is now available.

According to the journal, the purpose of Sacramental Life is "to provide help for persons who have responsibility for the worship and sacramental life in the local church." The journal provides articles "that are practical as well as being historically and theologically sound." It is published four times a year by the Order of Saint Luke.

The most recent issue is Volume XXI, Number 3, Summer 2009. (Yes, Summer 2009! There was a change in the office of editor, and, consequently, the production took a little extra time.) - The cost of the journal for none OSL members is $5.00 an issue. (OSL members receive this, as well as the more academic Doxology as a part of their membership.)

The reason for my excitement about this particular issue is that it includes one of my articles. The title of the article is, "An OSL Nazarene Reports on the Twenty-Seventh General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene." The article does not report on all of the happenings of the General Assembly. Rather, it focuses on the significant business undertaken by the Assembly which would be of specific interest to members of the OSL. In other words, it focuses, primarily, on sacramental issues, as well as the Assembly's actions concerning holy orders. (I do, also, mention the historical elections of the Rev'd. Jennifer Brown as Global President of Nazarene Missions International and The Rev'd. Dr. Eugenio Duarte to the episcopal office of General Superintendent.)

This is the third article I have had published in this journal. My first article, "One in Christ: Around the Table, In Prayer, and Confessing Our Faith," was published in Volume XV, Number2, Spring 2003. My second article, "Wesleyan-Holiness Prayers with Beads," appeared in Volume XIX, Number 3, Summer 2007. Additionally, I have recently been honored by being named one of the editorial consultants (in the area of Wesley Studies) for the journal.

The Order of Saint Luke is "A Religious Order in the United Methodist Church, Dedicated to Liturgical and Sacramental Scholarship, Education, and Practice." It is ". . . a dispersed community of women and men, lay and clergy, from many different denominations . . . The Order is Wesleyan and Lukan in its spirituality, Methodist in its origin, sacramental in its practice, and ecumenical in its outlook." - I encourage all readers of this blog to check out the Order via the links in this article, or the one listed on the sidebar.