*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 6th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It is Monday which means it is time to go to the mailbag. This one comes from an old friend here in south Orange County- Sam Pepke. Sam asked if we had covered the topic of “Theotokos” on this show. And we have- but an important issue like this is good to double back on- AND, as it is the season of Christmas, I think a question about Mary is apt.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, that many Christians call the “Theotokos.” This is a greek word from “Theos” or God and “tokos” or “bearer.” Some refer to Mary as the Mother of God and not just the mother of Christ. And this has some implications.
Historically- especially over the past three centuries, Protestants have been skittish around the doctrine of Mariology as somehow too “Catholic.” In a Protestant church, you might have grown up to only ask one question of the Virgin- and that is, “Mary, Did you Know?”
(I’ve got a mailbag question about my favorite historical Christmas hymns I am going to get to, and I’m not going to talk about this song… and I also won’t complain about this song, in the same way, don’t complain about Pentatonix. Do I listen to this? No. Can you? I guess.)
Let’s look at a few questions the church has asked about Mary and a few things taught about her. She receives special attention in the Roman Catholic tradition, where she is seen as a “2nd Eve”.
- Is Mary the Theotokos? It was Nestorius back in the 5th century who raised something of a fuss over this- after all, he saw the Divine and Human natures in Jesus as more separate than united and thus saw Mary as the “Christokos” or “Christ Bearer” but not the “God-Bearer.” After the Christological debates that make up much of the conversation in the early church, it was decided that calling Mary “Theotokos” didn’t mess up orthodox Trinitarian theology.
- Mary is said to have been a “perpetual” Virgin- we have talked about that on this show and noted how it had been taught in Catholic and Protestant circles. This teaching goes back to St. Jerome. We saw on another show that this does cause problems with interpretations of Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
- Mary is said to have been conceived immaculately. Remember it this way: Jesus has the Virgin Birth, Mary has the Immaculate Conception, and Franco Harris has the Immaculate Reception (but he didn’t catch it, but it counted, and the Steelers beat the Raiders). This was taught in the Roman Catholic Church, where original sin was seen as a defect passed through physical birth. Thus, for Jesus to not have original sin, his mother could not have that sin either. This has been official Catholic church teaching since the 1800s.
- And the last is the Assumption of Mary- that is, she did not see physical death (after all, she had no original sin). You might remember John of Damascus taught this back in the early church. He stated that it was not an ascension- that’s what Jesus did. But she was kept from an earthly physical death because of her lack of original sin. This became official Catholic doctrine in the 1950s.
A few things- just because a doctrine is made “official” by the Catholic Church in the 19th or 20th centuries doesn’t mean that it is a “new” teaching. These ideas go back into the early church, just not as codified doctrine.
Many Christians have worried that Mary has been lifted to the same level as Jesus. No one expressly teaches that, although we can talk about “folk doctrine” and what people end up believing.
Even the most “Sola Scriptura” “Bible only” Protestant should see Mary's unique place in redemptive history. And consider Luther who wrote, “No one can say anything greater of her or to her, though he has as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees, or grass in the fields, or stars in the sky, or sand by the sea.”
Thanks, Sam, for your question.
The last word for today comes from Luke chapter 2:
2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Christian History Almanac for the 6th of December 2021 was brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Mary’s include the Theotokos, Bloody, Queen of Scots, Tyler Moore, and Quite Contrary. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man with a lot of thoughts on Pentatonix… Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.