In the second part of the Hail Mary, we say, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” My fundamentalist brother wants to know how Mary can be the mother of God if God made Mary. How can I explain this?
Although Mary is not the mother of God in the sense that she is the mother of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (the Trinity), she is the mother of Jesus Christ, who is fully human and fully divine.
This title for Mary was accepted in AD 431 at the Council of Ephesus, which addressed the teachings of Nestorius, who said that Mary can be called the “Christ bearer” (Christotokos)
but not the “God bearer” (Theotokos).
The dispute over the title God bearer is more about Jesus than about Mary. To deny that title
to Mary for the reason given by Nestorius is to question whether Jesus was, in fact, fully divine as well as fully human. The way Nestorius spoke about Jesus suggested two persons (one divine and one human) rather than a single person with two natures (divine and human).
The Scriptures were given to faith communities (Jews and Christians) and must be understood by accepting help from those faith communities. In fact, the Bible’s table of contents comes not from a specific divine revelation but from the faith communities’ recognition of which writings belong to God’s unique self-revelation.
Christian fundamentalists tend to deny any legitimacy to the faith community’s understanding
of the Scriptures. They have put themselves in an impossible situation: implicitly accepting the faith community’s list of divinely inspired books (the biblical canon) yet rejecting that faith community’s ability to interpret those same Scriptures.
The faith community can legitimately discern which nonbiblical language (for example, Theotokos) accurately reflects their faith. Mainline Christians had already crossed that bridge in 325 AD when they accepted the nonbiblical term homoousios (“of the same substance”)
as the best term to describe Jesus’ relation to God the Father. What Archimedes reportedly said
about levers (“Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.”) probably applies here. Biblical fundamentalists destroy the very thing that would give them a place to stand.