The Dire Importance of God’s Mother
Every civilization rests on meta-narratives representing individual stories in aggregate. Nations would crumble without them. They give us our societal notions about organization, which flower into principles.
Christian civilization, in particular, founds itself on the Jesus narrative, but the Jesus narrative would not be complete without Mary, Mother of God.
The notion governing Western society is a widely Christian one. It gives us our understanding of traditional family structure, which extends to government.
While the traditional family seems to grow less and less monarchical, more and more egalitarian, whatever profitable standard left can, and should, be attributed to the Christian tradition.
Preserving those profitable standards ought to concern every Western person, even more so, every Christian. And many Christians today would agree that we risk losing those things down the road.
Differences arise, however, when we consider at what point those things started to lose ground. Some would say the upending of traditional structures came out of nowhere.
I would say the “decay” began whenever people started rejecting God’s mother.
We Don’t Understand Motherhood Anymore
Most of us love our mothers. And many would be offended at the suggestion that they fail to appreciate their mothers in any measure.
But, I think many do – even myself. This has to do both with a loss of respect for elders in culture as well as a theology. The veneration of Mary is both a cultural and theological problem.
It was culture speaking when the Lord spoke some of his last words from the cross, to John the Apostle: “Behold, Thy mother!” And it was culture in action when “that disciple took her unto his own home” in the following verse (John 19:27).
It was theology, all the same. The eternal God of the universe participated in a culture that revered mothers. Moreover, this notion that the creator of society also participated in its hierarchal system is vital to understanding the incarnation.
Bottom line: without the incarnation, we have no Christianity. And this is where the apologetic for Mary begins and ends. She was instrumental in the incarnation, so she is venerated as the epitome of Motherhood.
Ancient Jewish tradition uses the word Gebirah to mean “Great Lady” or “Queen Mother,” a role of high counsel in the Israelite kingdom.
The role is illustrated when Solomon sits his mother, Bathsheba, at his right hand and tells her, “Ask on, my mother: for I will not say thee nay.” (1 Kings 2:20) It is reiterated in the New Testament, when Mary tells Christ that the wedding has run out of wine. His response is, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? My time is not yet come.” (John 2:4)
Comparing these two events side-by-side is called typology, a method of interpretation which many biblical apologists are accused of abusing in schizophrenic fashion. It’s when something in the Old Testament foreshadows something in the new.
My personal understanding of typology is this: if it is profitable, beautiful, and glorifies God incarnate, then it is valid. I mean to follow the Apostle Paul’s exhortation: “Everything is permitted, but not everything is beneficial.”
The question, then, is whether revering Mary is beneficial. And I believe it is. To see why, we need to first examine how this typology is valid.
Notice, between the passages in 1 Kings and the wedding at Cana, there’s an inverse relationship between Solomon and Christ. Solomon welcomes his mother’s request verbally, and Christ rejects his mother’s request verbally.
The stories also play out inversely. Solomon ultimately rejects his mother’s request. Christ fulfills his mother’s request. The one parallel binding these narratives is that both mothers knowingly ask for something extraordinary. The difference is that only Christ delivers.
To be fair, the request of Solomon was a bit more extraordinary than what Mary asked of God incarnate. Bathsheba (the mom) asked Solomon (a mere mortal) to let his brother (Adonijah) marry the widow (Abishag) of his dead father (David).
Like any mortal would, Solomon gives it a hard pass.
Mary, on the other hand, knows what her son is capable of when she says, “They have no wine.”
Christ, knowing she expects him to fix the problem, responds with, “My time is not yet come.” It exposes Mary’s concern as somewhat petty in light of Christ’s eternal mission.
But, petty or not, Christ performs his first public miracle at his mother’s request. He turns the water into wine anyway.
Through this event, Christ honors the fifth commandment: Honor thy father and mother, which, according to the Apostle Paul, is also the “first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:2).
This indicates that honoring our mothers is profitable.
Christ honors his mother and expects us to do the same. And it is not merely a legal command, but an encouragement of benefit to us.
Unfortunately, this is not the story we tell ourselves about Motherhood today. Look no further than the rising number of abortions, the rising prevalence of casual hookups, and yes, the ever-rising volume of pornography clogging the airwaves.
Motherhood is a chore, and potential mothers themselves are degraded to simple objects.
I would posit it has something to do with notions like, “Mary was a sinner just like me.”
Mary Is the Key to Motherhood
Our respect for mothers hinges on a distinction between the particular and the general, personal and universal, member and body.
The particularity of Mary is despised in the West. She is a “sinner just like us,” as I’ve heard in many Evangelical sermons.
This is unfortunate, because the particularity of Mary is the particularity of the Church. When the particularity of the Church is in question, so is the particularity of its members.
No one I know would consider it idolatrous to point out Mary’s unique role as the Mother of Christ. And yet, a divergence arises in how we begin to contemplate her, whether it be verbal, prayerful, or in prostration (the same disagreement applies to how we handle the peculiarity of all saints and prophets).
Through ancient and medieval times, this was less of an issue. Prostration and boilerplate phrases were normal in addressing particular roles.
Not the case today, in democracy, where generality expands from a theory to a virtue. When equity becomes the law, not a suggestion, common reverence for unique individuals transfers to a common acceptance of masses – equal, but faceless.
With this as our project, we identify heaven as a faceless society. There is the throne of God, and beneath it a sea of anonymity. There is certainly no Queen, and no disciples judging the nations from their 12 thrones (Matt. 19:28), because there is no hierarchy.
But Christ did not come to eliminate hierarchy. He came to set it right: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (Matt. 20:16)
Service reaps the heavenly reward, as merit certainly does not disappear. The 12 disciples sit on 12 thrones by virtue of their service to God. And what greater service is there than to bear the Son of God?
We wonder why the notion of merit disappears from society, but we don’t consider that maybe we have eliminated it ourselves by irreverence.
Here, again, we want to set the cultural beneath the theological, ignoring how culture gives us the pretext for our theology. Our democratic minds want to ignore the reality of a heavenly monarchy.
Many would subliminally interpret “there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:11) as a complete reduction of “favor” with God. These are left to reckon with how the Lord favored Abraham, then Noah, then Mary thousands of years later.
Never mind that he chose a particular person, at a particular time, to be his own mother.
As God enters the world, theology enters culture. We often fear certain cultures are out to violate our theology, ignoring how another culture might have already contaminated it.
The result? If democracy is afraid of a king, it may have a hard time recognizing a Heavenly King.
Likewise with the Queen of Heaven. If we abandon all personal peculiarity and the formalities associated with Queen-ness, we dull our senses. We dull our sense of others, our sense of self, and we even become anonymous to ourselves.
So, to begin thinking about Mary, we need to understand her role as God’s mother. We should start by simply calling her Theotokos, or Mother of God.
This is to honor Christ as He honors, to serve as He serves. And even more than an obligation, it is for our benefit.
With our polluted eyes, we must learn to behold our Mother if we want to behold our King.
This is nothing light. It is a life-or-death matter in the Church, if the Church and its members are meant to uphold Truth in its fullness. It comes with promise.
Responding to Mary in Modernity
Reverence for Mary has remained a cultural relic in the ancient Roman and Eastern churches for much more than the reasons above.
Saluting a portrait of Mary, or praying to her, is not merely to honor her person but to honor Christ in her. Christ in Mary is the perfection of motherhood as well as Mary’s eternal life.
The ancient traditions acknowledge both eternal life and perfect motherhood by reverencing Mary, and yes, praying to her.
Praying to Mary, or any other saint, acknowledges a “Church Triumphant.” There are people reigning in Heaven with Christ as we live and breathe.
Praying to Mary, specifically, recognizes perfect motherhood, which points the way to Christ by delivering a perfect example of what Christians ought to be in Christ – that is, perfect receivers of Truth.
You can accuse these ancient traditions of paganism all you want. But I beg you to examine more closely before criticizing. You risk taking eternal life for granted when you doubt the presence of past saints.
At a more terrestrial level, you risk debasing an ideal motherhood invented by God and for God, even for the flourishing of human society, when you ignore perfect motherhood.
This problem is not limited to cultures that ignore Mary. But it can at least be helped if we engage with the Mother of God in the right way.
That is where we strike a major issue with modern tradition: many still have no outlet for engaging Mary or any of the saints. In fact, we discourage it.
I would argue that this keeps us from appreciating perfect sainthood, perfect motherhood, and transitively, the will of a god who loves mothers – namely the one He chose to be his own mother.
Mary was – and is – a particular person, after all. Personhood does not disappear from someone who becomes more like Christ. In Christ, the person who is “fearfully and wonderfully made” becomes more as they were meant to be.
Further, the Kingdom of Heaven is not a sea of anonymity, but entirely the opposite. It is a sea of knowing, in perfect union with the Trinity – multiple persons in one essence.
But instead, we seek the inverse in the West, a foggy, faceless sea of redeemed.
This is a slippery slope.
We’ve Become Anti-Mary
The U.S. Census Bureau counts 1 in 4 children living without a man in the home. These men have either died or run away from their women.
The number doesn’t capture the men who have let their minds and hearts run away while their limp bodies carry on the bare minimum of fatherhood and husbandry.
This man was born into a society that does not revere mothers. He does not contemplate Christ, he syllogizes of him.
His syllogisms are all correct, and he becomes bold in them such that they evolve to generalizations. The whole of humanity now exists in the general, abstract realm in is mind – never mind the real world outside his mind, where there are children and servants of God.
Amid this perpetual running-away, Christ is not reflected in the family, because the pastor of the family has failed to reflect the Father, because he has not learned from observing the prime reflector, the Mother (Luke 1:46). He fails to do what Mary did, submit to God and embrace her peculiar role.
Just as God the Father is the apex of existence, a human father is a spiritual leader and originator of household culture. When he shirks this responsibility, the entire thing crumbles like a house of cards. The infected family infects the Church, and then the world, failing to take on Mary’s peculiar role as a vessel of the Holy Spirit, no longer bearing the fruit that Mary bore in the world.
It is one thing to know right from wrong. It is another to have a living, breathing archetype to follow, a portrait of the ideal inseparable from an ideal world.
Our litigious culture utterly lacks the latter, because we dismiss the reverence of such images as “paganism” or “polytheism”. But an eternal, living relationship with these images is vital for the good, pure and beautiful to stand in place of all that is not.
When we indulge in pornography, we contemplate the antithesis of Mary. In doing so, we become antichrist. Is the woman in the video particular, or general, to the viewer? Does the viewer consider her a Queen “higher than the angels”?
She is, in fact, nameless and faceless. Now we see how generalization is Satanic.
Don’t we worship a God of a peculiar people who are each peculiar persons? Who favors the naming of things? Gives his children each a “new name” in his family?
When man indulges in porn, he acts as a child of the devil, and he makes the woman on the other side party to this. This same culture celebrates abortions transitive to meaningless sex and counter to the Nativity, at the pleasure of the fallen man who celebrates female debasement.
Neither the viewer nor the performer know what to do with their bodies. They have been given mere words to describe right from wrong, but the words were flimsy. They have not been shown the way.
Motherhood is no longer aspirational to the modern woman. Birthing remains her “curse” more than her proud privilege. She runs away from this curse, and in place of the modest, nurturing Mary enters a truly pagan, female god.
She is coarse, cold and self-indulgent. She takes pleasure in poetry about her own genitals. This is our fault.
So, we ask Mary to point the way, because we need a holy thing to supplant the fallen thing. That holy thing is Christ, who stands in the gap.
Christ, in turn, shows us what we can aspire towards: Mary, the perfect picture of how it’s done.