By Dave Armstrong (1995)
MOTHER OF GOD
The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 declared Mary the Mother of God (Greek, Theotokos) in order to safeguard the divinity of Christ, which was being attacked by the Nestorians, a heretical group which had recently arisen. Since Christ was God in the flesh (Col 2:9, Jn 1:1,14), Mary is the Mother of God the Son. Both Luther and Calvin (along with all the major Protestant Founders) agreed. But she is a creature, like us, and is not worshiped in Catholicism as a sort of goddess. She is venerated due to the unfathomable honor of having been chosen to bear and raise the incarnate God.
Catholics believe that God saved Mary in a special way, preventing her from sin, because of her extraordinary role and proximity to God the Son and Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35). An angel called Mary highly favored or full of grace in Lk 1:28. The Greek word, kecharitomene, means "completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace." On this and other grounds, Catholics hold that she was free of sin from conception and throughout her life. Even Luther agreed! The medieval theologians constructed an interesting word-picture to illustrate how Mary was just as saved as we are (Lk 1:47), yet in a different sense. Imagine a pit in a forest path, representing the quagmire of sin.
All of us are in that pit, wallowing in the mud. But God will pull us out of it and redeem us, provided we are willing. With Mary, God did something different. He never allowed her (unlike us) to fall into this pit. But in both cases, whether through prevention or rescue, it is equally true that it is God alone who saves. Mary is everything she is due to the unmerited, free grace of God, not because of some intrinsic superiority, regarded as originating separately from God.
The Assumption is not an arbitrary presumption. It follows from Mary's sinlessness. Since bodily decay results from sin (Ps 16:10, Gen 3:19), the absence of sin allows for instant bodily resurrection at death (i.e., the Assumption). Mary shared (in a secondary, derivative fashion) in her Son's victory over sin, death, and the devil (Heb 2:14-15), as foretold in Gen 3:15. She was the "firstfruits" of Christ's work on our behalf, which will eventually put an end to death and result in all saints having glorious, incorruptible bodies.
It was proper and appropriate for Mary - since she was the mother of God the Son - to "prefigure" the redeemed world to come by means of both her Immaculate Conception and Assumption. Scripture speaks of occurrences similar to the Assumption: Enoch (Gen 5:24; cf. Heb 11:5), Elijah (2 Ki 2:11), St. Paul (2 Cor 12:2,4), the so-called "Rapture" (1 Thess 4:15-17), risen saints after Jesus' Crucifixion (Mt 27:52-3). It is illogical and unacceptably dogmatic to assert that an event couldn't have happened because it was not recounted in Scripture. This would be as foolish as saying that Jesus couldn't have done any miracles other than those we find in the Bible (see Jn 20:30, 21:25). If the Assumption is not that radically different from many other occurrences in Scripture, flows from the interrelated theological notions explicitly found there, and is supported by the testimony of early Christian Tradition, it is neither "idolatrous" nor "unbiblical" to believe in it.
All the Protestant Founders (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) firmly believed in Mary's Perpetual Virginity, but some Protestants since have claimed that Jesus had siblings. The Greek word for "brother," adelphos, can and does mean many things in Scripture: nationality (Acts 3:17,22), neighbor (Mt 7:3, 23:8), even all mankind (Mt 25:40). Several other biblical arguments exist also. No one sought to deny this Tradition until the late 4th century, when one Helvidius unsuccessfully tangled with St. Jerome.