By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
Responding to a common misconception among separated brethren and ill-informed Catholics:
For two years in Perth, Western Australia, my wife and I hosted the only talk-radio show run by lay Catholics. It was a great opportunity to share the faith in public and to answer questions about the Church. One day we received a letter from a non-Catholic listener. It read:
“Last week you broadcast a musical recording of Placido Domingo singing a classical version of the Ave Maria. I realize that the first part may have been somewhat inspired in the Gospel of Luke. The second part, however, is an R.C. invention: It is inappropriate to call Mary the ‘Mother of God.’
“For Mary to be the Mother of God, she would have to be God’s parent, older than Him, and just as divine as God Himself. Now, in the Trinity, there are only three Persons — not four. So, how could Mary be the Mother of God since she is infinitely inferior — and younger — than God?
“One thing is to believe in the virgin birth, which I do; another is to believe in such a preposterous dogma as the ‘Divine Maternity.’ Mary is the mother of Christ, not the ‘mother of God.’
“I am grateful to the great Reformers for having put an end to this unbiblical belief and for bringing out the truth for us Bible-Believing Protestant Christians.
“I would appreciate your comments on this. Yours sincerely. . . .”
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I read out the letter to the listening audience, and, by way of a reply, I cited three Statements of Faith, which reflect the Mind of the Church regarding Mary, the Mother of God:
1) “In this work whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such good things were given her that no one can grasp them. Not only was Mary the Mother of Him who is born [in Bethlehem], but of Him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father, from a mother in time and at the same time man and God.”
2) “It cannot be denied that God, in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of His Son, granted her the highest honor. . . . Elizabeth calls Mary the Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the Person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God.”
3) “It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God.”
This is undoubtedly the Catholic faith. Now, my question is: Who called Mary by the title of “Mother of God,” for the first time, as cited in the “Hail Mary”? It was no Medieval Pope or council. It happened 33 years before the foundation of the Church. It was the Holy Spirit Himself who referred to Mary as being the Mother of God:
“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town of Judah, and she entered the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe in her womb leapt. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And how have I deserved that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, the moment that the sound of thy greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who has believed, because the things promised her by the Lord shall be accomplished’” (Luke 1:39-45).
Who is this “Lord” Elizabeth was talking about?
The Hebrew word for “my Lord” is Adonai, which literally means my Lords, in the majestic plural. In the version of the Old Testament most used by the apostles, the Septuagint, the word Kyrios is used — which means “The Lord” and refers to God our Lord, just like Adonai.
Moses cried out, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. . . .” (Deut. 6:4), or “The Adonai our God is one Adonai. . . .!”
Thus, Elizabeth said, “And whence is this to me that the Mother of my Adonai should come to me?” and “the things promised by Kyrios.”
Who was this Adonai, this Kyrios, this Lord of Elizabeth? It could not have been any adult lord of her time, such as the high priest, the Roman governor, or her husband. They were all born already, and Mary was not expecting any of them — it is evident. She was the Mother of one as yet unborn Adonai, an unborn Kyrios, an unborn Lord. The same One who promised Mary many things.
The only one Adonai who was going to be born was the Expected One of the nations: the Messiah. And Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, who is God and can neither deceive nor be deceived, refers to the unborn Messiah as Adonai, the same word used by Jewish prophets to refer to the Lord God of Hosts.
Thus, to the question, “Who was the ‘Lord’ of St. Elizabeth, whose Mother Mary is,” the answer is quite simple: God is her Lord, her Adonai — her Son.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth called Mary the Mother of her God, purely and simply.
Thus, the Catholic Church could have chosen to say in the Hail Mary prayer, “Holy Mary, Mother of my Lord, pray for us sinners.” It means exactly the same thing as “Holy Mary, Mother of God.”
There is only one God, in three distinct Persons. The Second Person is as divine as the first and the third. Mary conceived and gave birth to a divine Person; therefore, she is the Mother of that same divine Person — she is the Mother of God. Not the Mother of the Trinity, but the Mother of its Second Person — God the Son.
The non-Catholic listener finished his letter with this affirmation: “I am grateful to the great Reformers for having put an end to this unbiblical belief and for bringing out the truth for us Bible-Believing Protestant Christians.”
What he did not know was that the three statements of faith I cited in the beginning of this article were made by: 1) Luther (in The Works of Luther, Weimar, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, vol. 7, p. 572); 2) Calvin (Calvini Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Braunschweig-Berlin, 1863-1900, vol. 45, pp. 348, 35), and 3) Zwingli (in Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin 1905, in Evang. Luc., Op. comp., vol. 6, I, p. 639).
In this regard, all three of them fully agreed with the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches:
“Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus’ (John 2:1), Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her Son, as ‘the Mother of my Lord’ (Luke 1:43). In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s Eternal Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos) [cf. the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD]” (CCC, n. 495.)
Conclusion: Opposition to Mary’s title of “Mother of God” is thoroughly unscriptural. It is unfortunate that those separated brethren who thrive in opposing everything coming from the so-called “R.C. Church” get so carried away in their bigotry that they end up opposing the Bible they claim to believe in, and even the founders of Protestantism themselves.
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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.)