On the Mother of God

Mary, says St. Ambrose is the type of the Church.

The notion of looking through scripture for images and symbols of spiritual realities is as old as scripture itself. Indeed, it is older since that is the way human language has to work in order to speak of anything not directly graspable by the senses. That includes, not just God, but everything else that matters to human beings including stuff like freedom, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control and every other intangible. Every metaphor in the history of human language is about our deeply ingrained habit of having to speak of non-corporeal things in ways that involve the senses. It’s not only why God is a lion and a lamb, a warrior and a mother hen, a sun and a shield, but why Burns’ love is like a red, red rose, why Bruce Cockburn’s joy will find a way like a man searching for home, and why Paul McCartney’s troubles seemed far away like a physical object that could be remote from him. Imagery is how our capacity for language forces us to speak about all intangibles.

So when Christ spoke, both before and after his resurrection, he taught his disciples to assume that the sacred Scriptures of Israel, being inspired by the God of Israel, were chockablock with images that were all pointing to him:

“O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Lk 24:25–27)

“These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Lk 24:44–47)

Unsurprisingly then, the apostles therefore assumed that (as Augustine would later phrase it), the New Covenant was hidden in the Old and the Old Covenant was only fully revealed in the New. And the Church, following their lead, would look for secondary meanings in every nook and cranny of Scripture.

That is why they had such an enormous regard for Mary. Not only was she commended to us as our Mother by Jesus from the Cross, but she stood in the minds from the very beginning.

“But Mary was commended to John, not us!” comes the reply of some.

Actually Mary was commended into the hands of the disciple Jesus loved. To be sure, that disciple is (by the common consent of the early Church that preserved his gospel) John. But John himself does not commit a syllable to print without a richly layered and deeply spiritual purpose. As he himself says,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name. (Jn 20:30–31)

In short, not a word is recorded in John’s gospel without theological purpose. John does not record the story of Mary being told “Behold your son” and the Beloved Disciple being told “Behold your mother” (with Jesus’ dying breath) because he just thought you might be curious about how domestic arrangements were handled for childless Judean widows. He records the incident because we, the baptized, are all his beloved disciples and she, the Model Disciple and type of the Church, is our mother.

If you don’t believe it, there is another story where exactly the same point is spelled out in plain Greek by Jesus:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:46–50)

Jesus gospel of grace builds on nature while at the same time radically subverting the old notions of blood kinship. He affirms his relationship to family (particularly to his mother since, like him, she does not place mere blood relationship in subordination to the Kingdom). But he also emphasizes with this radical language that obedience to the kingdom of God must radically transcend mere blood ties.

This transcendence of the Kingdom over blood and soil kinship and racial and familial ties is the reason why Christian nationalism is a blasphemous lie and why every attempt to claim ethnic or racial superiority as an allegiance greater than the Kingdom is a lie from the pit of hell.


Leave a Reply

Follow Mark on Twitter and Facebook

Get updates by email