Note: a newer post on this topic is available here.
It is Catholic dogma to say that Mary is the mother of God. If one contends that Mary is the mother of Christ, one is labeled "Nestorian" and thus heretical. This is a bit of an equivocation, for the reason that just because one holds to a view that Nestorius also held (that Mary is the mother of Christ) does not mean that one holds to the Christological position that is called Nestorian (that is, the view that Christ is two persons, not one). There is no logical necessity that holding that Mary is the mother of Christ also means that one holds to a Nestorian Christology. But nonetheless, accusations of this sort abound. On the contrary, saying that Mary is the mother of Christ, rather than the mother of God, does not make one Nestorian, but rather saves one from an absurd logical conclusion.
1. Mary is the mother of God.
2. God is the Trinity.
3. Therefore, Mary is the mother of the Trinity.
This is absurd, but it gets worse.
4. Both the Father and the Holy Spirit subsist within the Trinity.
5. Therefore, Mary is the mother of both the Father and the Holy Spirit.
This is patently absurd. On the other hand, it is accurate (and logical) to say that Mary was the mother of the incarnate second person of the Trinity. That is, to say that Mary is the mother of Christ. Such an assertion maintains the unity of Christ's natures in one person, without the logical absurdities of saying that Mary was the mother of God. Thus, it is logically coherent, and not Nestorian (in the Christological sense).
One might object, and say "But isn't Jesus God? If Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of Jesus, then Mary is the mother of God." The problem is that the phrase "Jesus is God" is equivocal. Does it simply mean that Jesus is divine (having the essence of deity, homoousion with the Father), or that Jesus exhausts the meaning of the term God, such that Jesus is God and God is Jesus? Generally, the phrase is taken in the first sense, and if so, then it only makes sense to say that Mary is the mother of Christ, not of God. The second sense is simply incorrect, because Jesus and God are not logically identical. God is a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thus to identify Jesus as God, in the second sense, is to assert a modalistic view of the Trinity (since Jesus, encompassing the meaning of "God," must also encompass the Father and Holy Spirit, in which case the most logical explanation is that there is only one person who manifests himself in three different ways). Unless one wants to assert modalism, one cannot say that "Jesus is God, Mary is the mother of Jesus, therefore Mary is the mother of God."
Turretinfan has advanced this argument on his blog with a new twist: if Mary is the mother of God, then is not David the father, or ancestor, of God? I know of no one who would make such a claim. The fundamental reason is that the English language (and other languages, as far as I am aware) do not semantically equate FatherOf(David,Y) and FatherOf(David,Y(X)). In the first case, Y is an object; in the second, Y is a predicate, and Y(X) is a truth value. When we say that David is the father of Y, we take Y to be a person (or perhaps an idea or invention, in a figurative sense) - an object, but not a predication of another object. Thus, to say that David is the father of God is to assert FatherOf(David,God) - that is, that David is the father of God in his entirety (Trinity and all), since "God" is an object in this sense, not a predication. To say "no, no, no, that's not what we mean" is to logically necessitate that this statement have the meaning ∃X FatherOf(David,HasDeity(X)), or ∃X FatherOf(David,X) ∧ HasDeity(X), where X is understood to refer to Jesus. The former is not semantically equivalent to saying that David is the father of God, because the FatherOf predicate, in human language, is defined over objects, not truth values. In fact, it is hard to see how such a definition over truth values is coherent at all. The latter is equivalent to saying "There exists someone who has deity, of whom David is the Father" or "David is the Father of one who has deity." That is not the same as saying that David is the father of God, because "one who has deity" and "God" are not logically equivalent terms (because "God" encompasses a Trinity - three persons which have deity). To be orthodox, and maintain that David is the father of God, one must assert the former (∃X FatherOf(David,HasDeity(X))). That is why it is strange to say that David is the Father of God, because no one ever talks that way (speaking of fatherhood over a predication, as such is nonsensical). Rather, it seems that if one speaks of one being the father of something, that one is the father of that thing, in and of itself, and thus for David to be the father of God, he must be the father of God as a complete being, and this entails being the father of the Trinity. In the same way, the MotherOf predicate is similarly defined over objects, not truth values. Thus, it should be similarly strange to say(and is to those growing up in (at least some) Protestant households), if not for a theological tradition that has corrupted the use of ordinary language. There is a sense in which one can coherently say that "Jesus is God," but there is no sense in which one can say that Mary is the mother of God, without either violating orthodoxy (a modalistic view of the Trinity), or the dictates of language.
The only way that one can say "Jesus is God" in a sense that is logically coherent with the rest of Christian theology is to give this phrase the meaning HasDeity(Jesus). If Jesus = God (that is, that the terms "Jesus" and "God" are identical), then Jesus = The Father = The Holy Spirit, and there is no orthodox Trinity. Thus, the phrase "Jesus is God" is a predication, not an assertion that the terms Jesus and God are identical. Thus, in this statement, "God" is not strictly an object, but represents a predication of deity. To say then, that:
1. Jesus is God
2. Mary is the mother of Jesus
3. Mary is the mother of God
is to either assert a modalistic view of the Trinity in (1), or to violate natural language (and linguistic sensibility) by making Mary the mother of a predication in (3). To hold to this argument, therefore, is either to hold to a heterodox position, make a linguistically meaningless assertion. There is better, fully precise theological language available which solves these problems, and using it does not necessitate an erroneous Christological position.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Note: a newer post on this topic is available here.