Friday, December 18, 2009

If Mary is the Mother of God...

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."

Addendum (12/22/2009)

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.

11 comments:

John said...

This is lunacy.

1. Jesus is God
2. God is a Trinity.
3. Therefore Jesus is a trinity.
4. Therefore we can't call Jesus God.

The idiotic logic of Protestant arguments gets sillier by the day.

Vox Veritatis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vox Veritatis said...

John,

Did you read the last paragraph of my post? Because you'll find there that I already answered objections of this form (arguments that rely on your premise #1).

The idiotic logic of Protestant arguments gets sillier by the day.

Of course, this statement might hold more weight if you actually interacted with something a Protestant might say. As it is, your argument relies upon a non-Protestant premise, and not only that, but a premise which is required to argue that Mary is the mother of God (a position I believe you ascribe to). Thus, not only does your argument not show any problems with Protestant reasoning, it rather serves to demonstrate the absurdity of non-Protestant reasoning.

This follows from what I wrote in my final paragraph, but as it might not have been clear enough, let me spell it out. "Jesus is God" can mean two things:

1. HasDeity(Jesus)
2. Jesus = God

The first is what is commonly meant when we say "Jesus is God," though the second is possible by the English grammar. So, let's trace out the argument if we take the first sense. Let me also note that Protestants understand "Jesus is God" in this sense.

1. Jesus has deity
2. God is a Trinity
3. Therefore Jesus is a Trinity

This is an invalid argument, as the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Perhaps we could say the following:

1. Jesus has deity
2. Anything that has deity is a Trinity
3. Therefore, Jesus is a Trinity

This is valid, but no Protestant will accept premise 2. So far, no strikes against Protestant logic. Let's see what happens if we take "Jesus is God" in the second sense.

1. Jesus = God
2. God is a Trinity
3. Therefore Jesus is a Trinity

This is a valid argument. If Jesus = God, then Jesus is a Trinity. However, you add a fourth statement:

4. Therefore we can't call Jesus God

But conclusion 4 does not follow. First, an intermediate premise is required to relate our calling someone God to someone's status as a Trinity. Therefore, the argument is formally invalid. Moreover, if Jesus = God, then why can't we call Jesus God? This simply follows from saying that "Jesus is God." Therefore, if we take this phrase in the second sense, there is no reason why the conclusion reached is absurd. In fact, such a conclusion is consistent with a modalistic view of the Trinity (which, once again, Protestantism denies).

Now, if one wishes to make the argument "Jesus is God. Mary is the mother of Jesus. Therefore Mary is the mother of God," one must take the phrase in the second sense. If it is taken in the first, we have:

1. Jesus has deity
2. Mary is the mother of Jesus.
3. Therefore, Mary is the mother of one who has deity.

Of course, this is consistent with saying that Mary is the mother of Christ (and not God). If the phrase is taken in the second sense, then the absurd conclusions from my original post follow.

Thus, Protestant reasoning is logically consistent and Biblical. However, to say that Mary is the mother of God (the non-Protestant position), one must assert an interpretation of "Jesus is God" that leads one to modalism. Thus, rather than showing Protestant reasoning to be absurd, your argument serves to demonstrate the inability of the non-Protestant position to coherently assert both the Trinity and that Mary is the mother of God.

John said...

"1. Jesus has deity
2. Mary is the mother of Jesus.
3. Therefore, Mary is the mother of one who has deity."

So?

No Protestant goes around saying "Jesus has deity", even if per se that statement has less theological ambiguity than "Jesus is God". So why shouldn't we say Mary is the mother of God, just because a few ignorant Protestants might get confused? Obviously this 1,2,3 is what we mean by that, but that's not how we say it for the same reason you don't talk about Jesus who has deity.

Vox Veritatis said...

John,

The issue is that "Jesus is God" has an orthodox natural sense, where as "Mary is the mother of God" does not. I address these issues in the Addendum to this post. There is no reason (except for arbitrary Traditional assertions) to take "Mary is the mother of God" as saying anything other than that Mary is ultiamately the mother of the Trinity. Obfuscating our theological language does not glorify God. Therefore, we should not be unwilling to abandon misleading theological statements and use those which convey the truths we wish to express in the natural sense.

John said...

You've given me no reason to suppose that one has an orthodox natural sense and the other doesn't. Tell me, in your world where assertion is given as proof, is theotokos also supposed to have an unorthodox natural sense?

Vox Veritatis said...

You've given me no reason to suppose that one has an orthodox natural sense and the other doesn't.

You've given me no reason to suppose that you've actually read my post, the addendum, or my comments in this thread, since this issue is extensively treated there.

Tell me, in your world where assertion is given as proof...

Can you prove this assertion, or is your world the one in which assertion is given as proof?

...is theotokos also supposed to have an unorthodox natural sense?

Yes, for the same reason that the statement "Mary is the mother of God" has an unorthodox natural sense.

Steve, Liz, & Kate said...

I don't think that's right.

1. HasHumanity (John)
2. John = Humanity

In this case, 1 certainly does not imply 2 and while 1 is true (provided we are talking about th right John) 2 is not true; John is only one particular concrete instance of human nature he is not human nature itself.

However, in this case:

1. HasDeity (Jesus)
2. Jesus = God

1 does imply 2, if by "God" you mean the traditional Judeo-Christian God. That's why the Jews rejected Christianity. I don't think the Jews would have had a problem with an Arian Christology, a Christology that defined "God" in 2. Above in such a way ("a supremely Godlike creature, the greatest of all creatures"), that 1 would not imply 2.

Vox Veritatis said...

Steve et al.,

Thank you for your remarks.

However, in this case:

1. HasDeity (Jesus)
2. Jesus = God

1 does imply 2


Why? If you have an argument for this assertion, I'd be glad to see it. On the other hand, (1) is a form of essential predication, whereas (2) is a statement of identity - the two are different kinds of statements, and there is no reason why one should entail the other. Furthermore, a number of absurdities follow from (2), as I've outlined here. Are you willing to accept the absurd consequences that follow from (2)?

That's why the Jews rejected Christianity

Technically, the Jews did not reject "Christianity" - they rejected Jesus as their Mashiach. One can argue that "Christology" played a role, but Scripture declares that God has hardened a portion of the Jews for a specific reason, as part of His sovereign salvific plan (Mark 4:10-13, Rom. 11:25-32).

steelikat said...

"generally that phrase is taken in the first sense..."

When you are talking about Mary being the mother of God it is always taken in the second sense. Mothers are mothers of persons not natures. The predication is a statement about Christ's nature, the Identity is a statement about what Person Christ is.

Granted, Theotokos has implications about Christ's nature, it has several important implications, in fact, that make it a shibboleth. All orthodox Christians can say it, unless they are simply confused; no heterodox Christians (practically speaking) can say it. If one thinks is one is orthodox and intends to have a Chalcedonian Christology but cannot say it, one ought to look for confusion in one's thinking. The most common confusion is using the term "nature" to mean a kind of conflation of what mainstream historical Christianity means by "nature" and "person," and meaning by "person," the ego, psychological personality.

HasHumanity(John) does not imply that John is identical to humanity.

HasDeity(Jesus) on the other hand does imply that the person Jesus is identical to God, that he is one of the persons of the Trinity.

Matt said...

When you are talking about Mary being the mother of God it is always taken in the second sense. Mothers are mothers of persons not natures. The predication is a statement about Christ's nature, the Identity is a statement about what Person Christ is.

I would agree that mothers are mothers of persons, not natures. "X is the mother of Y" implies that Y is a person. But God is not a person - He is a trinity of persons. Thus, such a statement is ungrammatical at best, heretical at worst.

Granted, Theotokos has implications about Christ's nature, it has several important implications, in fact, that make it a shibboleth. All orthodox Christians can say it, unless they are simply confused; no heterodox Christians (practically speaking) can say it. If one thinks is one is orthodox and intends to have a Chalcedonian Christology but cannot say it, one ought to look for confusion in one's thinking. The most common confusion is using the term "nature" to mean a kind of conflation of what mainstream historical Christianity means by "nature" and "person," and meaning by "person," the ego, psychological personality.

I see a lot of assertions here, but little explanation and argument. If you want to convince me of my wrong-headedness, you need to explain what you are saying and make an argument for your case.

HasHumanity(John) does not imply that John is identical to humanity.

HasDeity(Jesus) on the other hand does imply that the person Jesus is identical to God, that he is one of the persons of the Trinity.


If Jesus is identical to God, then these absuridities follow. Moreover, your statement presumes that being a person of the Trinity implies that one is identical to God, but this is not the case except in the mind of a unitarian:

1) Jesus is God
2) The Father is God
3) Therefore, Jesus is the Father (substitution of identicals)