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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

To Whom Did Mary Give Birth & Who Died Upon The Cross?


I won’t bother to get into the historical debate that surrounds these two topics but a word or two will be offered as “food for thought” regarding Mary giving birth to God the Son and a divine person dying upon the cross.

Did Mary give birth to a divine person, or just a human nature? If birth implies the origin of someone new, then only humanity came forth in the virgin birth since the person born of the virgin always existed. However, Mary carried a person (and not just an embodied nature) in her womb, and after her water broke, she then labored to bring forth the person she had carried. In common parlance we call that giving birth. Since a divine person was born, we must let that reality inform our understanding of birth (rather then let our understanding of birth redefine what occurred in that manger in Bethlehem). Birth need not precede the origin of a new person, precisely because the eternal Son of God, a person, was born of a virgin. It's really quite easy when we start with Scripture. Question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way, or rather it simply assumes the point when making another:
“How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man? Answer: Christ the Son of God
became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being
conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her
substance, and born of her, yet without sin.” (emphasis mine)
Who was born of of the virgin Mary is the question we should be asking, not what was born. Sure, Jesus became man by taking to himself body and soul but it was Christ who was born of Mary. Accordingly, Mary giving birth to her Savior-son is not ground for Protestant objection. Aside from that, no unbiblical Marian dogma can be rationally inferred from such teaching.

Now for the 2nd condundrum. Did God the Son die on the cross, or just his humanity? A divine person took upon a human body and soul in the incarnation. That body is now glorified but before that, it lay in the grave – dead, awaiting resurrection life. Accordingly, a divine person's body lay in the grave. The body died in the death of a person, which is what happens when any person dies. Yet does the soul ever die, whether divine or human? We are not annihilationists after all. Are things getting a bit clearer? What's the problem that a divine person died? When we die our bodies will lie in the grave but the soul will remain operative in the intermediate state. So then, how does the death of the Second Person impinge upon the doctrine of the Trinity? Was the death of the body sufficient to do away with Jesus’ sovereign rule over the universe anymore than his being born of a woman? Is death even sufficient to stop the Rich Man (from Luke 16) from trying to correct God? One would have to ask how the Lord managed prior to the incarnation if we may not say that the Second Person of the Trinity, at least in some sense, died upon the cross and his body lay in the grave.
The same person who was born, died - and is now risen and ascended to God's right hand.
Happy Easter!

Ron

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10 comments:

Joshua Butcher said...

A couple of questions for clarification Ron.

You say, "Accordingly, Mary giving birth to her Savior-son is not ground for Protestant objection."

But a Protestant objection to what specifically?

Who, or what heresy are you responding to with regard to the second point about Jesus's death?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Joshua,

Protestants often have something akin to an allergic reaction when they hear the appellation "Mother of God" attributed to Mary. They are often moved to the extreme position that Mary gave birth only to Jesus' humanity. The driving motive behind the maneuver is that the Marian dogmas, which are and should be repugnant to all sincere, thinking Protestants, might seem bolstered if she were truly "God's mother" in any sense. Accordingly, in haste but without any need to do so, they object to the title given to Mary. My point is that the title is appropriate and even useful when properly understood, which requires a little more work, like that we think of birth in a different manner that is biblically informed. Secondly, Roman Catholics don't use the appellation to justify any dogma I know of whether it bears the church's imprimatur or not. For instance, the ascension doctrine, which is official Catholic dogma, along with the co-remptrix and co-mediatrix teachings that are widely accepted but not official dogma, are not built upon the title "Mother of God."

As for the death of Jesus, I had no heresy in view but yet there is often emotional recoil over the teaching that in at least some sense the Second Person died on the cross. In both cases, the incarnation and the death of our Lord, I am trying to tease out that a Person, not just a humanity, was born, lived, died, etc. for his people.

I remember asking my former pastor several years ago, "What was the personality of Jesus?" His response was basic but insightful. His personality was that of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Best wishes,

Ron

Anonymous said...

Ron,

I saw your interaction with the guy who thinks that Jesus is two persons. There's another thing he wrote that was twisted. In a portion of his 'proof' for two persons he wrote:

All God are persons
Jesus is God
Therefore Jesus is a person

But that's logically flawed. He should have concluded: Therefore Jesus is persons (plural) not person (singular)!!! But that is not the plurality he wanted at that point in the proof because that plurality would mean that Jesus is all the persons of the Trinity!!! The plurality he needed was smuggled in later. Make sense?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

A,

That makes perfect sense and I do follow your thinking. I saw the invalid form when I responded. He's a pretty sloppy writer so in an effort to advance the discussion I took that into account. I was willing to interpret that portion of his argument in a way that makes better sense. I wanted to interact with the heart of his problem rather than get him on a technicality. What I believe he meant was something like the following.

1. All entities of the Godhead are individual God-persons

2. Jesus is an entity of the Godhead

C. Jesus is an invidual God-person

The person who runs the blog has serious problems and is in danger of church censure IF he is ministered to by his session and IF he doesn't repent. Although he is a sloppy writer, he is crystal clear that he embraces heresy, and unfortunately very strident over his belief that Jesus is two persons. It's a very unusual thing to find a session that will take such a matter head-on. It requires striving with an individual in love and a willingness to censure, also in love.

Ron

P.S. How in the world did you come across that blog - unless of course you know that guy. If so, maybe you might reach out to him, but from what I'm seeing, I'm concerned he can't hear from anyone.

Joshua Butcher said...

Thanks for the reply Ron. I can understand the desire to retain language that is true, though easily misunderstood.

The second issue is more interesting to me, especially having read Clark's book on the Incarnation. Are you familiar with it? It seemed to me that Clark was driving at the possibility of taking the union of divine and human nature as a union of two persons in one God-man (not full-blown Nestorianism, but perhaps a mild form?).

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I am not familiar with Clark on that subject, but I have seen how certain (even most) "Clarkians” have completely brought reproach upon the man they so admire. I admire Clark and I think I have a fair appreciation for his thought. Accordingly, I do not give credence to those with muddled musings who claim Clark's position(s), whether in epistemology or any other discipline, while simultaneously showing themselves blatantly irrational.

Ron

Joshua Butcher said...

Ron,

I wholeheartedly agree with your observation. When I get the chance I'll reproduce some of the passages from Clark for you to review.

~Joshua

Adam Cummings said...

Ron,

Thanks for commenting on my blog. It might have been a decade ago... lol... but I truly appreciate it. I'm thinking about posting some more in the future (I'm kind of in a different point of life, living at home now with two jobs and learning how to live). Praise God, college is done for now, as much as I loved it.

Interesting post. It looks like you have a great blog here. I don't blog often, but I'll try to keep coming back here when I think about it.

To be completely honest, I still don't like the title "Mother of God." When someone thinks of mother, they think of originator (or, maybe just me). Mary did birth to that essence of Jesus, although Jesus was God when He was born.

lol... semantics... details... right? Maybe I'm one of those reactionaries you were talking about and I just need to calm down.

Either way, nice blog. Keep up the hard work. You'll have to give advice on how to give meaningful blogs while retaining a life at the same time. :D

Later friend.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hi Adam,

Concerning your last remark, look how frequently (or should I say infrequently?) I post and that will tell you how I keep a life and a blog at the same time. :) The real question is whether I am a "blogger" or just a guy with a blog!

As for the title "mother" being reserved for originator, what about adopted children? Aren't they being raised by parents? And aren't one of those parents a mother.

Accordingly, "mother" need not be indexed to an originator, even apart from the virgin birth, due to the common practice of adoption. Now let's move to the discussion of birth, which was my original topic but before that a word about the Bible referring to Mary as Jesus' mother... Nobody should doubt that Jesus had a mother and a father: "...and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing."

The question I was dealing with is whether Mary gave birth to a person. Does birth need to imply originator? If so, then a divine person was not in Mary's womb, which would make me wonder why John leaped when in his mother's womb! But if a divine person was in Jesus' womb, then that which came forth from the womb - in birth - was divine, yet without being orginated by Mary.

Blessings,

Ron