Saturday, May 22, 2010

Church Fathers on Jesus' Status as "Without Mother"

Ambrose (A.D. 337 - 397) writes: "He it is Who is without mother according to His Godhead ..." (On the Mysteries, Chapter 8, Section 4

Theodoret (A.D. 393 - 457) writes: "On account of this difference of term He is said by the divine Paul to be "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life." He is without father as touching His humanity; for as man He was born of a mother alone. And He is without mother as God, for He was begotten from everlasting of the Father alone. And again He is without descent as God while as man He has descent." (Letter 151)

Gregory Nazianzen (A.D. 329 - 389) writes: "These names however are still common to Him Who is above us, and to Him Who came for our sake. But others are peculiarly our own, and belong to that nature which He assumed. So He is called Man, not only that through His Body He may be apprehended by embodied creatures, whereas otherwise this would be impossible because of His incomprehensible nature; but also that by Himself He may sanctify humanity, and be as it were a leaven to the whole lump; and by uniting to Himself that which was condemned may release it from all condemnation, becoming for all men all things that we are, except sin;-body, soul, mind and all through which death reaches-and thus He became Man, who is the combination of all these; God in visible form, because He retained that which is perceived by mind alone. He is Son of Man, both on account of Adam, and of the Virgin from Whom He came; from the one as a forefather, from the other as His Mother, both in accordance with the law of generation, and apart from it. He is Christ, because of His Godhead. For this is the Anointing of His Manhood, and does not, as is the case with all other Anointed Ones, sanctify by its action, but by the Presence in His Fullness of the Anointing One; the effect of which is that That which anoints is called Man, and makes that which is anointed God. He is The Way, because He leads us through Himself; The Door, as letting us in; the Shepherd, as making us dwell in a place of green pastures, and bringing us up by waters of rest, and leading us there, and protecting us from wild beasts, converting the erring, bringing back that which was lost, binding up that which was broken, guarding the strong, and bringing them together in the Fold beyond, with words of pastoral knowledge. The Sheep, as the Victim: The Lamb, as being perfect: the Highpriest, as the Offerer; Melchisedec, as without Mother in that Nature which is above us, and without Father in ours; and without genealogy above (for who, it says, shall declare His generation?) and moreover, as King of Salem, which means Peace, and King of Righteousness, and as receiving tithes from Patriarchs, when they prevail over powers of evil. They are the titles of the Son." (Fourth Theological Oration (Oration 30), Section 21)

John Cassian (A.D. 360 – 435) writes: "For as He was begotten in His Divine nature "without mother," so He is in the body "without father:" and so though He is neither without father nor without mother, we must believe in Him "without father and without mother." For if you regard Him as He is begotten of the Father, He is without mother: if, as born of His mother, He is without father. And so in each of these births He has one: in both together He is without each: for the birth of Divinity had no need of mother, and for the birth of His body, He was Himself sufficient, without a father. Therefore says the Apostle "Without mother, without genealogy."" (On the Incarnation, Book 7, Chapter 14)

Augustine (A.D. 354 - 430) writes: "For the Lord was said to be a Galilean, because His parents were from the city of Nazareth. I have said "His parents" in regard to Mary, not as regards the seed of man; for on earth He sought but a mother, He had already a Father on high. For His nativity on both sides was marvellous: divine without mother, human without father." (Tractates on John, Tractate 33, Section 2)

And Augustine again writes: "And He goes on: "And no man has ascended into heaven, but He that came down from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven." Behold, He was here, and was also in heaven; was here in His flesh, in heaven by His divinity; yea, everywhere by His divinity. Born of a mother, not quitting the Father. Two nativities of Christ are understood: one divine, the other human: one, that by which we were to be made; the other, that by which we were to be made anew: both marvellous; that without mother, this without father." (Tractates on John, Tractate 12, Section 8)



Augustine (354-430):
At that time, therefore, when about to engage in divine acts, He repelled, as one unknown, her who was the mother, not of His divinity, but of His [human] infirmity. NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate CXIX, §1, John 19:24-30.

Augustine (354-430): Why, then, said the Son to the mother, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come ?” Our Lord Jesus Christ was both God and man. According as He was God, He had not a mother; according as He was man, He had. She was the mother, then, of His flesh, of His humanity, of the weakness which for our sakes He took upon Him. But the miracle which He was about to do, He was about to do according to His divine nature, not according to His weakness; according to that wherein He was God not according to that wherein He was born weak. But the weakness of God is stronger than men. His mother then demanded a miracle of Him; but He, about to perform divine works, so far did not recognize a human womb; saying in effect, “That in me which works a miracle was not born of thee, thou gavest not birth to my divine nature; but because my weakness was born of thee, I will recognize thee at the time when that same weakness shall hang upon the cross.” This, indeed, is the meaning of “Mine hour is not yet come.” For then it was that He recognized, who, in truth, always did know. He knew His mother in predestination, even before He was born of her; even before, as God, He created her of whom, as man, He was to be created, He knew her as His mother: but at a certain hour in a mystery He did not recognize her; and at a certain hour which had not yet come, again in a mystery, He does recognize her. For then did He recognize her, when that to which she gave birth was a-dying. That by which Mary was made did not die, but that which was made of Mary; not the eternity of the divine nature, but the weakness of the flesh, was dying. He made that answer therefore, making a distinction in the faith of believers, between the who; and the how, He came. For while He was God and the Lord of heaven and earth, He came by a mother who was a woman. In that He was Lord of the world, Lord of heaven and earth, He was, of course, the Lord of Mary also; but in that wherein it is said, “Made of a woman, made under the law,” He was Mary’s son. The same both the Lord of Mary and the son of Mary; the same both the Creator of Mary and created from Mary. Marvel not that He was both son and Lord. For just as He is called the son of Mary, so likewise is He called the son of David; and son of David because son of Mary. Hear the apostle openly declaring, “Who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” Hear Him also declared the Lord of David; let David himself declare this: “ The Lord said to my Lord, Sit Thou on my right hand. “ And this passage Jesus Himself brought forward to the Jews, and refuted them from it. How then was He both David’s son and David’s Lord? David’s son according to the flesh, David’s Lord according to His divinity; so also Mary’s son after the flesh, and Mary’s Lord after His majesty. Now as she was not the mother of His divine nature, whilst it was by His divinity the miracle she asked for would be wrought, therefore He answered her, “Woman, what have I to do with thee ?” NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate VIII, §9, John 2:1-4.

Augustine (354-430): Each birth of his, you see, must be considered wonderful, both that of his divinity and that of his humanity. The first is from the Father without mother, the second from mother without father; the first apart from all time, the second at the acceptable time (2 Cor 6:2); the first eternal, the second at the right moment; the first without a body in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1:18), the second with a body, which did not violate the virginity of his mother; the first without either sex, the second without a man's embrace. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Sermons, Part 3, Vol. 6, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., Sermon 214.6 (New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993), p. 153.

Augustine (354-430): While hanging upon the cross, at the will and command of the Father, he also abandoned into the hands of men the human flesh which he assumed from the holy virgin, Mary, and commended his divinity into the hands of his Father, saying, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Lk 23:46). For Mary gave birth to the body which was destined to die, but the immortal God begot the immortal Son. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, The Arian Sermon §7, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1995), p. 133.

Augustine (354-430): Because of his eternal birth scripture says, In the beginning was the Word. Look, I say that God the Son was born from God the Father apart from time. I have shown how he who is his Father is also his God on account of the human nature which he has assumed and in which he was born from the womb of his mother without intercourse with a human father. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Answer to Maximinus the Arian, Book 2, XVIII, 2, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1995), p. 297.


Viisaus said...

I understand that even the opponents of Nestorianism originally preferred the term Theotokos ("God-bearer") to Meter Theou ("Mother of God") which sounded too gross even for them.

These two terms should not be mixed with each other.

Anonymous said...


When one reads these minds one gets the distinct impression they too, succinctly, have been impressed upon with the Same Holy Spirit and Scriptures!

When you are unsure of yourself and the Voice of the Spirit by reading Scriptures only, reading such minds as these, and others as well, like Francis Turretin, minds like these brings such an assurance to the soul one sees in which direction one travels, north or south! :)

Or should I say, up or down? :) :)

You can equally discern that the commendation from Paul has reached their spirit, too:

Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.


Php 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Andrew Suttles said...

Thanks TF!

...and Amen to natamllc!

John said...

If this is some kind of shot against "Mother of God", I must remind you that we both believe Christ was begotten in eternity without a mother. It is after the incarnation that he acquires an earthly mother.

John Bugay said...

If this is some kind of shot against "Mother of God", I must remind you that we both believe Christ was begotten in eternity without a mother. It is after the incarnation that he acquires an earthly mother.

Viisaus is correct. "Meter Theou," which was used in Cyril's Council of Ephesus (431, enforced by gang-of-thugs), was not adopted at Chalcedon (451) in favor of "Theotokos." I don't think Protestant ears have to chafe at "God-bearer," given that this is a theologically precise term. "Mother of God" does raise confusion.

But still more precise was Nestorius's "Christotokos," or "Christ Bearer." 1n 1994 John Paul II lifted the anathema on this phrase.

And it's significant that even someone with the stature of Kallistos Ware is going around saying "Nestorius was not guilty of the Nestorian heresy":

(see video #1)

I think we haven't heard the last of this, either.

Viisaus said...

For one thing, "Mother of God" makes it sound as if Mary would possess certain inherent maternal authority over Jesus Christ - a notion contradicted by the Gospels, and something that RC doctors like Bonaventura have exploited to the point of invoking Mary to COMMAND Christ to do this of that. Grassroots-level RC believers have then interpreted this idea in their own idolatrous way.

The title "God-bearer", on the other hand, makes Mary's role in the Incarnation sound more passive and humble (which is the proper approach). She "bore God" as she was told to do.

Viisaus said...

In Bissera V. Pentcheva's book "Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium" (2006) there is shown an old Byzantine church fresco where this revealing exchange between Mary and Christ is inscribed to:

pp. 181-182

"What do you want, Mother?"

"The salvation of mankind."

"They have angered me."

"Forgive them, my son."

"But they do not repent."

"Well, save them anyway."

"They will have their redemption."

"I thank you, Christ."

There you have it - Jesus Christ would not have wanted mankind to be saved if not for His mother's pleading.

This whole Marian-intercession scheme has a distinct Monophysite flavor - Jesus is not so much a GOD-MAN as playing the role of judgmental God the Father Himself. So Mary takes Christ's place as the merciful advocate for men.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

1) I'm glad to see You don't subscribe to the error of Calvinists, who say that "without father" refers to His Divinity, and deny that He is (as the Creed says) "begotten of the Father before all ages". (They believe the Son is "autotheos").

2) You're confusing person and nature: Mary is the Mother of God, NOT the Mother of Christ's Divinity, or the Mother of Christ's divine nature. -- He derives His human nature from her, and His divine nature from the Father, but as a Person He is only divine -- there is no human person in Christ [Nestorianism]; nor is Christ a divine-human person [Monophysism].

Turretinfan said...

As to (1), no - that's no the Calvinist position.

As to (2), the statement itself "mother of God" leads to the confusion. There's an orthodox way to understand it, and we can both agree on that, but it's a dangerously confusing description.