By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
Responding to a common misconception among separated brethren and ill-informed Catholics:
What did the Early Christians believe about the Catholic doctrine on the divine Motherhood? Those men, women, and children who sacrificed everything for the true faith in Jesus — even their very own lives? They were imprisoned, tortured, murdered. Some were burned alive, racked, beheaded. Others were crucified, flayed alive, and eaten by wild beasts. And they preferred to die rather than to deny Jesus Christ and their belonging to His Church. Let us see three examples, taken exclusively from those heroes who lived before the Bible was put together as we know it in AD 397:
St. Ephrem, who died in AD 373, wrote beautiful praises of the Virgin Mary, many of which are still used in the Syriac Liturgy to this day. One of them reads, “In the womb of Mary the Infant was formed, Who from eternity is equal to the Father. . . . And the handmaid and work of His wisdom became the Mother of God” (Song of Praise, in The Faith of the Early Fathers, William Jurgens, vol. 1, p. 312, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn., 1970).
St. Irenaeus, the great defender of Christianity against the early heresies, upon writing against the Gnostics around AD 190, said, “The Virgin Mary…being obedient to God’s word, received from an angel the glad tidings that She should bear God” (Adversus Haereses, ibid., p. 101).
St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the greatest luminaries of the post-apostolic era, himself a martyr for the faith, in a letter to the Christians in Ephesus (ca. AD 110), stated quite clearly the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ: “Our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God’s plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit” (Letter to the Ephesians, ibid., p. 18).
This is the faith of the Early Christians. One finds it also clearly expounded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Councils Of
The Early Church
The first heretic to become famous for his opposition to the teaching of the Bible in this matter was the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius. He concocted the idea that, because Christ is both God and man, there would be two persons in Christ: a divine one and a human one. Mary would have been the Mother of the human person alone. That was in AD 428.
But the entire Church at the time — the only Christian Church in existence since Pentecost — condemned the new heresy in a council held in the city of Ephesus, the very same city where our Lady lived her last days. Here is a key paragraph from the council’s document, which deserves to be read carefully:
“It was not that an ordinary man was born of the Holy Virgin, on whom afterwards the Word [of God] descended. What we say is that, being united with the flesh from the womb, [the Word] has undergone birth in the flesh, making the birth in the flesh His own. . . . Thus [the council fathers] have unhesitatingly called the Holy Virgin ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos). This does not mean that the nature of the Word or His divinity received the beginning of its existence from the Holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by the holy soul, which the Word united to Himself (according to hypostasis) was born from her, the Word was born according to the flesh.”
The Word was made flesh . . . the Word of God: God, therefore. That’s the teaching of the Council of Ephesus, in AD 431, more than 1,000 years before Luther’s parents were dating after Sunday school. This teaching was confirmed by the Council of Chalcedon 20 years later, and remains the same to this day in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Council of Chalcedon (AD 451): “We unanimously teach to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body, the same one in being [homoousios], with the Father as to the divinity and one in being with us as to the humanity, like unto us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15). The same was begotten from the Father before the ages as to the divinity and in the latter days for us and our salvation was born as to the humanity from Mary the Virgin Mother of God.”
Conclusion from this and the two preceding articles: Opposition to Mary’s title of Mother of God is unscriptural, illogical, and unhistorical. The early Christians — with the exception of a few neo-pagan heretics — believed it quite naturally. It is unfortunate that separated brethren who thrive in opposing everything from the so-called “R.C. Church” get so carried away that they end up opposing the Bible, the faith of the Early Christians, and even the founders of Protestantism themselves.
Thus, we must pray for them, so that they may become true Bible-believing Christians in the Church established by Jesus Christ, which is the “Church of the Living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” — 1 Tim. 3:15.
May Our Blessed Mother intercede for them and for us all, as she interceded for the needs of a family in the marriage of Cana:
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; an EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI]; president of the Sacred Heart Institute, and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is www.raymonddesouza.com.)