By Fr George Adimike
The role of an earthly mother is by no means inconsequential to the Incarnation―the mystery by which the Eternal Word took on flesh to dwell with us most radically (John 1:14). Such was the role played by Mary in the Incarnation of Christ Jesus. But she is easily dismissed as an envelope used to deliver the message of life, Jesus Christ. This view erroneously suggests that Mary was not the mother of the Lord but a surrogate mother of Christ. In other words, her role as the paper on which the Eternal Word was written in time, to be delivered to all peoples of all climes and times, admits no confusion or contradiction. She is the paper, not an envelope; the mother of Christ and not his surrogate mother (birth mother). Mary’s identity relative to the mystery of Christ directly correlates with his role in the mystery of salvation. Were Mary to be a mere envelope, she would be akin to being a surrogate mother, who is extraneous to Christ and his salvific mystery and therefore disposable. But if she is the paper on which the Word was written, then she is profoundly connected to the mystery of Christ and cannot be discarded on a whim.
In its progress to clarification, this piece will give deserving attention to the singular implication of Mary’s maternity. As a crucial point, there is a priority of grace over merit in the acts of Mary relative to Christ’s nativity. Submitting to Mary’s genetic ancestorship, God in Christ makes the gratuity of salvation self-evident. Irrespective of the possibilities of confusion, misunderstanding and disbelief, God executed the redemption of creation through the midwifery of Mary, an earthenware vessel made ready by grace. In its entirety, grace funds the mystery of the Incarnation such that Christ possesses Mary’s DNA. Otherwise, it would mean that Mary was only a rented womb or an incubator in which Christ spent his earliest days as a human.
Hardly can one deny that Jesus’ bios came from Mary without denying the humanity of Christ―docetism, a heresy the Church fought vigorously in the past. Evidence from the Scriptures links the coming of Christ into the world to Mary. The virgin birth of the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah became a reality in the New Testament as recorded, especially by Matthew (cf. Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23; see other biblical references Micah 5:2-3; Galatians 4:4; John 1:14; Matthew 1:18; Hebrews 2:14; Philippians 2:5-8). Christ is biologically connected with Mary (cf. Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:35). The biological doctrine of maternal inheritance of mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) offers insight into the necessity of a human mother in the Incarnation of Christ and justifies Mary being the genetic ancestress of Christ. As one of the significant ramifications of this position, the miracle of the conception of Christ is circumscribed to paternity.
It is a widely accepted bio-scientific dogma that the mother’s mtDNA is absolutely necessary for the life of the baby. Precisely, the mitochondrial DNA in human beings is passed down from mother to child unlike a father’s mitochondrial genome, which is not transmitted to his child. By implication the mitochondrial genome is inherited only from the mothers. The divine intervention in the conception of Jesus Christ borders on the role the father could have played. God the Father through the Holy Spirit supernaturally activated the process that led to the conception and birth of Christ. But if Mary were a mere envelope or a gestational surrogate mother, which would mean that she did not contribute anything to the conception of Christ, then Jesus would not be fully human (docetism). Christ is theandric (God-man) and participated in our existence through Mary.
The manner in which the mystery of Jesus the Christ sheds light on the mystery of Mary approximates the role of Mary in establishing the true identity of Christ. The divine sonship of Christ invests Mary with a unique dignity as the mother of God, and the motherhood of Mary in relation to Christ proves a sufficient warrant for his humanity. Christ’s generation in eternity from the Father proves his Godhood and his birth of the Virgin Mary proves his humanity. To be God, his eternal generation from the one ousia of God the Father (the monarch and eternal source of deity) is absolutely necessary. As such, Christ is homoousios (same substance) with God the Father. Similarly, to be man, Jesus’ temporal generation from a woman (Mary) is only logical. He has to share human substance with all humans, which he got from Mary. According to John in his Gospel, “the Eternal Word became flesh (human) and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). This prologue to the Johannine Gospel highlighted two truths, namely, that Jesus of Nazareth born in time was already born eternally in God. So he is both fully divine and fully human; he is God-man. He is generated of the Father (eternally) and of Mary (temporally). Through the supernatural action of the Holy Spirit on Mary, the natural process of the fertilisation of Mary’s egg commenced and was accomplished naturally.
In consequence, Mary is the true and natural mother of Christ with its attendant ramifications in genetics. In other words, Jesus’ earthly existence commenced with the full biological contribution of Mary in an actual pregnancy and of a supernatural IVF in the context of gestational surrogacy. Hardly is it possible to argue that Mary is an envelope (gestational surrogate mother) without implying that hers was a rented or donated womb where Jesus was housed for nine months and hence a surrogate mother of the Lord and not the true mother of Christ. Furthermore, Mary led Jesus through the process of humanisation, taught him the Scriptures and the mysteries of God, especially in relation to the people of Israel. Though later on, during his baptism, Jesus, through the Trinitarian action, came to the full assumption of his identity as the Christ of God, thereby the totality of the history of the promises, hopes and realisation of God`s encounter with Israel.
Therefore, her being the paper on which God wrote the Word of salvation implies that Mary cooperated most profoundly in the work of salvation. She is beyond a mere deliverer (post mistress) of the letter of salvation (the Word of God). As such, since God raised her to the fullest possibility of grace, any right honour to Mary adds to the right worship of God. According to Joel B. Green, a protestant theologian, “Not to bless Mary is to turn away from the work of God.” And for Joseph Ratzinger, “Mary is one of the human beings who in an altogether special way belong to the name of God, so much so, in fact, that we cannot praise him rightly if we leave her out of account.” To state it clearly, Mary is not part of the Word of God. She is not a goddess. She is infinitely subordinate to the Word of God. She is a mere creature. Yet it has pleased God to choose her for unique glory for she is the mother of Christ.