Friday, December 30, 2011

If Mary is the Mother of Jesus, why isn't the Holy Spirit called his father?

January 1st, Solemnity of Mary the Holy Mother of God
The generation of Christ was in this wise. When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph etc. (Matthew 1:18)
St. Matthew makes it very clear that Mary is truly the Mother of Jesus, and this is affirmed also in the other Gospels many times over. Throughout the Gospels and in the Church’s Tradition, Mary is called the Mother of Jesus. Indeed, we know that (because Jesus is one divine person) Mary is truly said to be the Mother of God.
However, given that Mary is the Mother of Jesus with respect to his humanity, why do we not call the Holy Spirit the Father of Jesus? Since it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Mary conceived, and since Mary is called the spouse of the Holy Spirit, why does the Church refuse to say that Jesus is the Son of the Holy Spirit in his humanity?

Mary is truly the Mother of Jesus
A handful of times in the Gospels, St. Joseph is called the “father” of Jesus – by St. Luke (2:33), and even by Mary herself (Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing, Luke 2:48) – but it is quite clear that the term “father” is not used literally in these cases. St. Luke himself specifies that St. Joseph was only thought to be the father of Jesus, since the Holy Family kept the mystery of the Incarnation hidden from the public and most thought that the marriage between Joseph and Mary was a natural one – [Jesus] being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph (Luke 3:23).
However, when we come to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is quite clear that the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament (as well as the prophecies of the Old Testament) present her as the true and natural Mother of our Savior. The Lord Jesus was truly born of the Virgin Mary, and this is affirmed also by St. Paul – God sent his Son, made of a woman (Galatians 4:4).
Christ’s body was not brought down from heaven, nor was it formed of the earth, but rather (by the power of the Holy Spirit) he took flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Indeed, we ought to suppose that (on the part of the Woman) all was natural – St. Thomas Aquinas held that Christ was formed of the blood of Mary, but by that he meant that the Savior came from the normal reproductive material of his Mother (for, in those days, it was thought that the blood of the woman filled something of the role we assign to the egg). What is most important to hold is that Christ took his flesh from the body of his Mother Mary; accepting this, any explanation will suffice.
The angelic St. Thomas specifies that, in respect to what belongs to the woman, Christ’s conception was in accord with the laws of nature – hence the Blessed Mary supplied the matter just as any mother would. Now, in regards the working of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s conception was above the laws of nature – hence, he was conceived and born of the Virgin. [cf. ST III, q.31, a.5, here]
Now, all that is required for motherhood is that the woman supply the matter (i.e. the egg), and this Mary did. Further, she nurtured him through the process of gestation and gave birth to him – and, although this birth was miraculous (since it did not harm her virginal integrity, but rather Christ passed through her as light through glass), it was nevertheless a true and real birth. Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is truly Christ’s mother in relation to his humanity. [cf. ST III, q.35, a.3, here]
Further, though the birth of our Savior was miraculous, this can in no way be said to reduce the motherhood of Blessed Mary – indeed, a woman who brings forth a child through c-section is still called a mother; hence, the violent passage of the infant body through the birth canal is not necessary for motherhood. In any case, the virginal birth of our Lord is still a true birth, though it exceeds the laws of nature and is a most wondrous and unique miracle.
All that being said, Mary is the “Mother of Jesus” not simply because she gave him birth, but most especially because she conceived him in her most pure womb, nourished him with her body, and bore him for nine months in her virginal cloister.
Still, we must be very careful to point out that the Savior existed before his Mother, for he did not begin to exist when he was conceived, but rather assumed to himself a human nature in that moment – remaining what he was (God), he became what he was not (Man).
What “father” and “mother” mean
Before continuing, it will be helpful to briefly state what we mean when we employ the words “father” and “mother” as well as “son” and “daughter”.
These words, says the Angel of the Schools (St. Thomas) “result from generation; yet not from any generation, but from that of living things, especially animals. For we do not say that fire generated is the son of the fire generating it, except, perhaps, metaphorically; we speak thus only of animals in whom generation is more perfect.
“Nevertheless, the word ‘son’ is not applied to everything generated in animals, but only to that which is generated into likeness of the generator. Wherefore, as Augustine says (Enchiridion xxxix), we do not say that a hair which is generated in a man is his son; nor do we say that a man who is born is the son of the seed; for neither is the hair like the man nor is the man born like the seed, but like the man who begot him.” [ST III, q.32, a.3, here]
Jesus is the “Son of God”
Now, any man can be called the son of God in two respects: First, on account of the fact that man is created in the image of God; second, on account of the regeneration of the soul through grace by which the likeness to God is restored in man. And in this respect also, the angels are (in Sacred Scripture) occasionally called “sons of God” – for they bear the image of God in an even more excellent manner, and they have greater grace as being among the blessed than do we who are still on earth.
However, a man is called a “son [or child] of God” in an imperfect sense, for he is not a perfect image of God, but is a mere creature. Yet, a man is called the son of his natural human father in a perfect sense, for he is truly of the same nature as his human father.
But Christ alone is called the “Son of God” in the perfect sense, for he is equal and co-eternal with the Father, the two being of one nature. Hence, in respect of his divinity, Jesus is rightly called the Son of God, meaning the Son of God the Father – for the one Person (the Word) was begotten of the Father from all eternity.
The Holy Spirit is the author of Christ’s conception, but is not his Father
St. Augustine says (Enchiridion xl): “Christ was born of the Holy Ghost not as a Son, and of the Virgin Mary as a Son.”
Now, Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we do not say that the Holy Spirit supplied male seed (such would be an impious blasphemy). Rather, by divine power, the Blessed Trinity took matter (i.e. the egg) from the Blessed Virgin and made it to become man (forming the matter by the infusion of the rational human soul), assumed at that very moment by the person of the Word.
But, in his humanity, Christ is not of the same nature as the Holy Spirit – for neither his body nor his soul is consubstantial with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Holy Spirit cannot possibly be said to be the “father” of Jesus in the way that a man is the father of his son.
Further, since Christ is already the perfect Son of God the Father, we do not predicate of him a secondary sonship according to grace – while we are “sons” by adoption through grace, Jesus is “Son” by nature; since he is only one person (the Word and Son of the Father). Thus, not even according to grace, do we call Jesus the son of the Holy Spirit – since, he is already perfectly the Son of God.
Put simply, by St. Thomas
The Common Doctor states all this in the simplest terms [ST III, q.32, a.3, ad1, here]
“Christ was conceived of the Virgin Mary, who supplied the matter of His conception unto likeness of species. For this reason He is called her Son. But as man He was conceived of the Holy Ghost as the active principle of His conception, but not unto likeness of species, as a man is born of his father. Therefore Christ is not called the Son of the Holy Ghost.”


A Sinner said...

This is one interpretation.

I've seen another, which essentially suggests that (perhaps as would seem "obvious") it was the Father who was the father (ie, the active principle) in Christ's conception, and that "conceived of the Holy Spirit" (conceived "of" seems better than conceived "by") rather means that the Holy Spirit acted as the power of divine receptivity, indwelling in Mary, that allowed her to truly enter into a relationship of Divine Maternity with respect to the Father's Son.

This is not Aquinas's interpretation, and obviously in their ad extra activities...all the Persons actually work in concert. But in terms of what we attribute to what person, attributing the "active" role in the conception to the Holy Spirit seems somewhat confused. Especially given that "conceived of" usually does not indicate the active agent.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
Even if we were to attribute the active power of Christ's generation to God the Father (which, I think, would be a mistake and foreign to the Scriptural account - "she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost" [Matthew 1,18]), we would still never say that God the Father is Jesus' father in reference to his temporal generation.

This isn't merely a point of Thomism ... the Church never calls any of the persons of the Trinity the "father" of Jesus in relation to his temporal birth.

So, I don't think you are right to say "it was the Father who was the father (i.e., the active principle) in Christ's conception".

Irenaeus of New York said...

The Father is the originating font of Divinity. So this would make Him the Father of His Divine Son no matter how the act of conception was achieved by the Godhead. Since we confess Christ to be True Man, Mary must have cooperated in the same manner as any human birth. Anything less and He could not be confessed as such. Anything less, and He would not be fully human.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

While you are certainly correct to say that Mary cooperated as any mother would in the conception and birth of her Son, still I would warn against saying that this is necessitated by Christ's humanity.

There reason why Mary must truly cooperate is because she is truly Jesus' Mother, not because Jesus is truly man.

Let me explain briefly ... whatever anyone says about the creation account, I don't think any can honestly claim that Adam would not be human on account of the fact that he was not born of a woman. Likewise, who would deny Eve's human nature simply because she came from Adam and not from a mother?

Moreover, if (somehow) scientists were able to create a human from some tissue other than a female egg - and I don't know if that would be possible - and then raise that human in a test-tube, that wouldn't make the child non-human.

Finally, even if the Word had formed a human nature for himself from dust (like Adam's) and descended from the heavens without being born of a woman ... this would not mean that he was not human.

To be human means to have a human nature, having a human mother is not required.

So ... we do not say "Anything less, and He would not be fully human" ... rather we say: "Anything less, and Mary would not truly be his Mother."

Peace and blessings to you! +

John H. said...

Question: Mary supplied the matter, but did she supply all of it? For the ovum she supplied would only be 1/2 of a conception, and it would only have an x chromosome to supply. From where did the other half of the genetic makeup with the y chromosome come? Of course it is by the power of the Holy Spirit, but would His power not also have to provide the rest of the matter for human conception?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@John H,
Excellent question!
There is much room for freedom of opinion in this matter ... but I do believe that we must say that all of Christ's body came from the body of Mary.
How we get a y chromosome is a bit tricky ... I would suppose that the Holy Spirit could take an x chromosome and make it into a y ... or perhaps he took other matter and made it into a y chromosome ... what I do know for certain is that the matter of the y chromosome didn't come from any other source than from the body of Mary (and that she, of course, didn't have a y chromosome by nature).

As God can change stone into sons of Abraham, I suppose there is no reason to think he can't change some piece of flesh into an x chromosome.

Does that seem reasonable? It is a very interesting thing to think about! :-)

John H. said...

Thank you Father, it is a very reasonable speculation. It is really no different than when God took the rib of Adam and fashioned Eve from it. Obviously He would have needed to form the other half of her genetic makeup from it somehow. So the Holy Spirit could have taken matter from Mary and modified it into a complimentary gamete that would have provided the other 23 chromosomes (including the y) to make a complete embryo. It still would have been matter from Mary, but changed into the necessary material to complete conception.

A Sinner said...

"the Church never calls any of the persons of the Trinity the 'father' of Jesus in relation to his temporal birth"

Hm. An interesting (if hair-splitting) point. Of course, we speak of Christ's Father all the time, as did He, but I suppose we can only speak of the Father or mother of persons, not "natures," of course, and so Christ's Father is His father, period (ie, as applying to His person), just as Mary is His Mother, period (and thus can truly be called "Mother of God" though she did not generate the divinity).

Still, what I'm saying is that in terms of the generation of His humanity, it seems confused to attribute to some other divine person the father-ly role. The Angel Gabriel did not say, "The Holy Spirit will impregnate you." Rather, he said "the Holy Spirit will OVERSHADOW you"...and the child will be called Son of God (and "God" standing unqualified here means the Father).

So I still think it's possible to say that "conceived of the Holy Spirit" means that the Holy Spirit's role was constituting Mary in divine RECEPTIVITY to the Father's (temporal) active sending/"mission" of the Son, and thus that any analogy of the Holy Spirit to "father" is entirely confused (and not merely because the humanity conceived was not of the same nature).

This would not, mind you, exclude the Holy Spirit's role in forming Christ's body in her womb (as, in a certain sense, that function itself is done by the maternal receptivity of the mother's body once it receives the seed, and is not in fact a function of the "active force" of a father in giving or sending that seed.)

A Sinner said...

I've found Stratford Caldecott's article touching on this point intriguing, especially as regards the insights of St. Maximilian Kolbe and the connection of Pneumatology and Mariology:

"I would be inclined to defend Kolbe's phrase by arguing that 'Conception' here refers rather to the act of conception than to the one conceived or begotten in or through the act. The Holy Spirit is thus the one 'in whom' the Son is eternally begotten, the one 'in whom' the Father contemplates and loves his Son. The motherhood of the Mother of God then becomes an image of the active conceiving of this Word in the bosom of the eternal Trinity - the Word carried on the breath of the Spirit, the wings of the Dove. She is the earthly image of the 'hearing' or 'understanding' of the Eternal Word. For the Word generated by the Father is understood by the one in whom it is received perfectly - by that person, in fact, who is the Immaculate Conception. The Mother of God is thus the earthly image not of the Father's generation of the Son, nor of the Son's generation by the Father, but of the Holy Spirit's conception of the Son as a gift for the Father and for the world. This means also that the Mother of God is an image of the way the Son is loved in the eternal Trinity, since in God to understand is to love and to love is to understand."


You may find that formulation controversial. I like it though, and believe it has obvious implications for how we speak of the Holy Spirit's role (as the force of receptivity in Mary in Christ's conception, of the "act-ive conceiving"...rather than as the [i]generative[/i] force which is proper to a father and thus would seem more appropriate to the Father in terms of our attributions).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
I can't help but smile when you hint that I am splitting hairs by insisting that God the Father is the Father of Jesus in relation to his eternal birth rather than in relation to his temporal birth (for in this, he had no father), but then you quickly turn around and insist that the Holy Spirit ought not to be giving the attribution of being the active principle in Christ's conception (making intricate distinctions between "overshadow" and "impregnate").
Is the kettle or the pot more black? :-)

Well, I don't think I'm splitting hairs, because claiming that God is Jesus' father in relation to his humanity will almost certainly lead to the heresy of adoptionism.

Once again in defense of attributing the conception more to the Holy Spirit than to the Father, I will again quote Scripture -- "she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost" [Matthew 1,18] ... not 'found with child of the Father' nor even 'found with child of God'; but 'of the Holy Ghost' ... can you find a single passage where Scripture attributes the power of conception directly to the Father?

Finally, please stop speaking of a "father-ly" role ... it just confuses the issue ... neither the Father nor the Spirit have a father-ly role in Christ's conception -- I am quite certain that this thinking is what is leading to the confusion.

Sam said...

Father Ryan,

Your post raised a question I have wondered about. I have always understood that the nature and attributes of God are immutable, that they can undergo no change.

Yet, as you pointed out, in the incarnation God assumed something he previously did not have---namely, flesh and blood. Isn't this taking on of humanity a significant change in either the nature or attributes of God? Am I simply misunderstanding the immutability of God?

Please understand, I do not intend to question the incarnation in any way. I believe it wholeheartedly. I am in the position of "faith seeking understanding." Thank you.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
Any notion of the Holy Spirit conceiving the Son from eternity is very confused.
The Son is not generated through the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and through the Son (as the early Eastern Fathers also maintained, especially St. Gregory of Nyssa).

If the Son was eternally from the Father and the Holy Spirit, then we would say "Father, Holy Spirit and Son" ... but rather we say "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" because there is a proper order to the persons in the Trinity -- there is no before or after, no greater or less, but there is still an order and a logic of procession.

In any case, the tradition of the Fathers maintains that the birth of Jesus from Mary is an image of his eternal birth from the Father -- as Mary's virginal integrity was unharmed, so too is the Father's divine nature undivided.
Thus, Mary is more an image of the Father than of the Holy Spirit; when considering her role in conceiving and bearing a Son.

What does St. John say? "The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father" ... not 'in the bosom of the Holy Spirit', but 'of the Father' ... thus, as he was in the womb of Mary in time, he manifested to us that from eternity he was in the bosom of the Father.

I think Caldecott is terribly confused.

Irenaeus of New York said...


Thank you for that excellent explanation. I have some doubts though with your example on Adam and Eve in discounting the necessity of parents for ones nature.

With Christ, I see a distinction between being born, rather than being created. Whereas Adam and Eve are an example of creation and not begetting through generation. Therefore, since Christ was not created, his humanity/nature would seem to be necessarily from a parent.

The test tube babies thing also seems more akin to creation than begetting. I hear they can even massage the dna and change eye color, or sex etc. The doctor has creative control(though not complete) over nature. If however, we are taking an unaltered and natural seed and egg, I see them still coming from a parent, though it may be anonymous.

Many thanks!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I can see your good will and humility, with these you will certainly be aided by the Holy Spirit to come to something of an understanding of the mystery!

If the union brought about by the incarnation was in the divine nature, then there would be a change in God -- but the union was not in the nature but in the divine Person of the Word, hence the two natures remained whole and complete and undisturbed.
This is why there is no change in God, because the divine nature did not incorporate a human nature in a mingling or confusion, but rather the divine Person (the Son) assumed a human nature.

Thus, we may ask, was there a change in the Word?
According to his divine nature, there is no change and never has or will be any change.
According to his human nature, there is change -- for he began to exist as a man (though he always existed as God), he moved and was moved, he lived and died and lives again, etc.

I hope that this makes some sense ... let the Spirit of God instruct you further, for He will reveal all things. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Irenaeus of NY,
Actually, I think we understand each other perfectly and are in complete agreement!

As you say, the distinction is between being born and being created (though I might use slightly different words, these are fine for now) ... insofar as Jesus was born, it is necessary that he had a true and natural Mother.
However, insofar as he is Man, it is not absolutely necessary that he be born ... hence, he would have been Man even if he had no mother.

In fact, he did have a Mother, and he was born. But, even without a mother and without a birth, he would still have been human (just as Adam and Eve are still human).

As you say, "since Christ was not created" [rather than simply, 'since Christ was human'] "his humanity/nature would seem to be necessarily from a parent" [i.e. from Mary his Mother].

Peace and blessing to you. +

Irenaeus of New York said...

There is nothing more beautiful than learning something new about God through this kind of reasoning:) Thank you for your shared wisdom Father!!!

A Sinner said...

"The Son is not generated through the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and through the Son (as the early Eastern Fathers also maintained, especially St. Gregory of Nyssa)."

I don't think Caldecott is denying this at all.

"If the Son was eternally from the Father and the Holy Spirit"

No one is saying this.

Caldecott's point is to identify the person of the Holy Spirit with the "reception" of the Son generated by the Father, as it were. In this sense, his formulation affirms the "through the Son" aspect even more

"In any case, the tradition of the Fathers maintains that the birth of Jesus from Mary is an image of his eternal birth from the Father"

This is not excluded either by Caldecott's interpretation, it just would nuance it a little bit so that rather than identifying Mother with Father in the analogy, the emphasis would be on Mary's receptive role, more than her "generative" role.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
If the Holy Spirit receives the Son, then the logical order would be Father, Spirit, Son ... for the Father does not beget the Son into the Spirit, but Father and the Son spirate the Spirit.
Indeed, the Spirit is the wondrous exchange of love between the Father and the Son.

And to change the analogy so that Mary is an image of the Holy Spirit completely changes everything ... it does violence to the tradition.

Michelangelo said...

Father Ryan,

Thank you for the elegant exposition of the relationship of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit to the Incarnation, and for explaining that "Jesus is rightly called the Son of God, meaning the Son of God the Father – for the one Person (the Word) was begotten of the Father from all eternity." Happy Feast of the Holy Family, Father!

Leumas said...

Have you or will you post about Luke 2:41-45? Protestant claim that this is evidence of Mary's carelessness, which goes contrary to her being without sin due to the merits of Jesus Christ OR they claim that this is evidence of her having more than one child. Can you make an article about this topic? Thank you!

A Sinner said...

"If the Holy Spirit receives the Son, then the logical order would be Father, Spirit, Son ... for the Father does not beget the Son into the Spirit, but Father and the Son spirate the Spirit."

Caldecott's argument says these would be equivalent.

He is not proposing some sort of pre-existent (even in the order of logic) Spirit to receive the Son. Rather he is proposing that the very relation (and the divine persons are relations subsisting, after all) of receptivity proceeds from the Father and (and through) the Son, that receptivity logically FOLLOWS generation.

Alessandro said...

I don't perfectly understand what the debate is touching, to tell the truth, but I think that the order of the three persons within the Holy Trinity isn't just a matter of "logic", as "A Sinner" wrote. The order is an ontological order. The Holy Spirit is actually proceeding from the Father and/through the Son, while the Son isn't dependent at all, in His divine nature, on the Holy Spirit.

I think (just to verify if I have it right), that the best description of Christ's "parents" to be like this: Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father alone according to His divinity, and the only begotten Son of Mary alone according to His humanity, yet as a single Person in two natures we can and must say that Jesus is Son both of the Father and of Mary. We may summarize the role of the Holy Spirit in three ways:
1) The 3rd Person in the Holy Trinity was responsible for the creation of the gamete of Jesus' body out of Mary's genetic material, not in the same way as a male would provide semen and conceive, but by a new immediate creation out of Mary's DNA and egg. As it was said before, Jesus was formed out of Mary's egg in the same way that Adam was formed out of clay in the Garden of Eden - neither matter could actually conceive by natural means, so it must be called a new creation out of pre-existing matter.

2) The Holy Spirit breathed the newly formed soul of Jesus within the newly created gamete at the very same instant of conception.

3) The Paraclete was (I suppose) responsible for the realization of the Hypostatic Union.

I hope Father could confirm my interpretation, and if I'm wrong in any respect, I would like to know it... thanks!

ellen said...

I second Iranaeus of New York's comment. Thank you so much for doing this. Wishing you every blessing for 2012.

Matt R said...

Hello Father. I am just finishing up reading Blessed Newman's book Arians of the 4th Century. As a student of Athanasius, I have always found the topic of the Trinity to be fascinating and mysterious. I question one thing though that you stated. You say that the Son is not consubstantial with the Spirit. This can't be true. All of the persons (hypostasis) share the same substance (ousia). They would therefore have to be consubstantial sharing the divine substance of the Father...who begat the Son before all ages and sends His Spirit through the Son. Am I missing something there?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Matt R,
The key words are "in his humanity" and "neither his body nor his soul" ... for the human nature of Jesus is not consubstantial with the Holy Spirit -- Jesus' body and soul are human, his humanity is human.

Yes, as you say, St. Athanasius (and the whole tradition) teaches that Jesus is consubstantial with the Father and Holy Spirit -- and this is according to his divinity.
However, by his humanity, he is not consubstantial with the Holy Spirit, but with us [that is the language of the council of Chalcedon].

Hope it makes sense now! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Ellen an Michelangelo,
Thank you for your kind words. +

I don't have any immediate plans to write on Luke 2:41-45 ... but perhaps some day.
Thanks for the encouragement, it is an important topic to be sure! +

Yes, I think you are very much on the right track.

When using words like "ontological order" we also have to be careful to point out that the Father does not cause the Son and neither is the Holy Spirit caused -- for they are all the uncaused Cause.
And, to be clear, you didn't say this and you didn't make any error, but I'm just pointing it out so as to avoid any possible confusion in the future. :-)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
Would you please address the Scriptural text I have now cited a couple of times?
Matthew 1,18: "she was found with child, of the Holy Spirit."
For your ease ... the KJV and Douay-Rheims both say "of the Holy Spirit" ... the NRS says "from the Holy Spirit" ... Vulgate is "de" ... the Greek is "ek".

On this verse, Chrysostom says "It was the Holy Ghost that wrought this miracle."

Secondly, please respond to the fact that the whole tradition sees the virgin birth from Mary as a sign of the eternal birth of the Son from the Father -- such that Mary begetting is an image of the Father begetting (rather than of the Holy Spirit).

If we are not rooted in Scripture and Tradition ... then our speculative theology will be worth very little.

A Sinner said...

"Would you please address the Scriptural text I have now cited a couple of times?"

I've never denied Mary was with child "of the Holy Spirit." The question is how. The Spirit clearly had a big role, the question is which role, or what analogy should be applied to it. The "of" here clearly doesn't mean that the child is the Holy Spirit's in the manner of a father to a son (the whole point of your post), so then the question becomes in what sense should we speak of the Holy Spirit's involvement.

There is no doubt she was pregnant "of the Holy Spirit," but she was pregnant of the Holy Spirit with the Father's Son.

"Secondly, please respond to the fact that the whole tradition sees the virgin birth from Mary as a sign of the eternal birth of the Son from the Father -- such that Mary begetting is an image of the Father begetting (rather than of the Holy Spirit)."

Well, birth and conception are two different things as your own previous post on Christmas vs. the Annunciation points out. Begetting (ie, birthing) seems more associated with the Father-Son relationship in tradition, whereas the complex of ideas surrounding "Conception" (see St. Maximilian Kolbe on this) seems more associated with the Holy Spirit (hence we speak of the Spirit at the Annunciation, the conception, but emphasize the Father at the Nativity, the birth).

I don't know what this sort of parallel set of associations implies, but it's interesting.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
You didn't address Matthew 1:18 ... the point is that the Holy Spirit seems to be credited with the active generative power ... this is certainly what St. Chrysostom says.
Why didn't Matthew say "of the Father", if we out to attribute the work to the Father more than the Spirit? That is my question for you.

Regarding Christ's conception and birth ... yes, you are right, conception is often more associated with the Holy Spirit ... not (as you say) that Mary is an image of the Holy Spirit, but that Mary is the spouse of the Spirit and that the Child is conceived through the active power of the Holy Spirit.
Can you see that your hypothesis is very different from the tradition?

In being the Mother of Jesus, Mary is a sign of the Father -- not so much of the Holy Spirit.

And St. Maximilian Kolbe's primary sense of speaking of Mary as the "quasi-incarnation of the Holy Spirit" refers to her Immaculate Conception -- not so much to her role as Mother of God and the conception of Christ.

I'm sorry, but I just don't think our conversation is going anywhere ... with this, I will have to let my points stand and refrain from further comments.

Father S. said...


This post is predicated on an understanding of a very nuanced point. That point is the spousal relationship between Our Lady and the Holy Spirit. Referring to Our Lady as the spouse of the Holy Spirit is ancient; it goes back to Patristic times. That being said, she is not the spouse of the Holy Spirit in the same way that she was the spouse of St. Joseph.

I do not mean to put words in your mouth, so I wonder if you could speak to this distinction. I think that it goes to the very heart of this issue.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S,
Yes, you are most certainly right to point out that Joseph is spouse of Mary in a way far different from that by which the Holy Spirit is Spouse of Mary ... Joseph is a spouse by virtue of betrothal and marriage, whereas the Holy Spirit is spouse by virtue of the most profound spiritual nuptials (and further insofar as Mary is the true Mother of God).

Thank you for pointing to this nuance! +

MaestroJMC said...

Father Erlenbush,

I have a question that is somewhat related to Matt R.'s question, above. You say that in His humanity, Christ is not of the same nature and consubstantial with the Holy Spirit, and you give that as a reason why we do not call the Holy Spirit the father of Jesus. So I was wondering, is Christ in His humanity equal in nature and consubstantial with the Father, then? This would mean that the Father also has a human nature, which seems rather absurd. So on what account do we call the First Person the father of Christ - not only in Christ's divinity, but also his humanity - if Christ in his humanity is not equal to the Father?

Similarly: you say that because The First person and the Second person are equal and coeternal in their divinity, Christ can be said to be the Son of the First Person (hence the Father). But is Christ not also equal and coeternal, in His divinity, to the Holy Spirit? If so, would it not also seem to follow that we could call the Spirit the father of Christ?

I hope I've expressed myself intelligibly. And by the way, in no way do I doubt what you are trying to defend; I am merely trying to understand more. :-)

In Christ,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Good questions ... it is indeed a complex point.

What we must remember is that God the Father is the Father of Jesus in his divinity, not in his humanity ... as God, Jesus has only a Father (God the Father); as man, Jesus only has a mother (Mary) -- there is an ancient verse about this, but I don't have it readily available ... something like "God without mother and Man without father" (St. Thomas quotes it somewhere in his commentary on Hebrews ... on the passage "he is like Melchizedech, without mother or father, without generation".

So, Jesus, as man, is not equal to the Father -- this is why he says "The Father is greater than I".
But, as God, he is equal to the Father and of the same nature as the Father, hence he is the Son of the Father.

But, as God, the Word is not the Son of the Spirit because the Spirit does not beget the Word, nor does the Word proceed from the Spirit ... rather the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son -- and this is not a "begetting", for the Spirit is not a son, but he is rather the "Breath" ("Spiritus") which proceeds from both the Father and the Son (and principally from the Father).

Thus, neither is the Spirit the father of the Son nor is the Son the father of the Spirit -- but there is only one Father, and one Son of the Father, and one Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

And, in his humanity, Christ is not equal or consubstantial with the Father or the Spirit ... but only in his divinity, for he is truly God.

Hope that it is clearer now! Peace and blessings to you ... and happy feast of Mary Mother of God! +

MaestroJMC said...

Thank you, Father, that does make it a bit clearer. So there are also the divine processions to be taken into consideration.

One more thing, however: You said that God the Father is the father of Jesus in his divinity, but not in his humanity. Why then does Ludwig Ott list the following as De Fide: "Not only as God but also as man Jesus Christ is the natural Son of God"?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Maestro (Jonathan),
I mean to say that Jesus' humanity is not fathered by God the Father.

Of course, as you rightly point out, the one Person, Jesus, who is both God and Man, is the natural Son of God the Father -- and this was really a major point of my article (since, we do not say he is an adopted son in his humanity, but that there is only one filiation [sonship] in Christ, and this is his identity as eternally begotten of the Father).

So, yes, Jesus is the natural Son of God -- and he is not an adopted son, not even by his human nature; because he is already the natural Son by his divine nature.
Thus, though he has no father from his humanity (i.e. no one fathered his humanity), I suppose we may say that "in" his humanity he is still the natural Son of the Father (by virtue of the fact that he is one Person, God the Son).

Ok, hope I'm making it more clear ... and not muddying the waters! :-)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Here is a quote from St. Augustine (Sermon 184.2):
"Natus est Christus et de patre et de matre; et sine patre et sine matre: de patre Deus, de matre homo; sine matre Deus, sine patre homo"
Christ has been born both of a Father and a Mother; and also without a father and a mother; God from the Father, Man from the Mother; God without mother, and Man without father.

It is also said: "Of the Father without a mother, of the Mother without a father".

Beautiful to meditate upon! +

wpr said...


I have a question somewhat related to this post. Would it be appropriate to generally call Jesus "Father?" This came up when a window in my Advent calendar said (referring to Jesus) "He's a baby, but we can call Him Father!" (citing Jn 8:19). I suspected the answer is no, since the First and Second Persons of the Trinity are distinct (and Father seems to be a name for a person), but another Catholic I know suggested that it is okay since God is one. I also came across Isaiah 9:5: "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace." Not sure how that fits in. Has this been addressed by the Fathers or Doctors? Thanks a lot.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

In his biblical commentaries especially, St. Thomas gives good support to the idea of calling Jesus "Father" ... indeed, several of the Church Fathers (no citation handy) say that the prayer "Our Father" refers primarily to God the Father, but also to the Trinity as a whole.

What is important to remember is that God the Father is the natural Father of God the Son ... but not our natural father. Rather, by grace, the whole Trinity is our Father.
Still, there is something to the fact that we are "sons in the Son" ... we are identified in a particular way as the Body of Christ, and this lends to the idea of calling God the Father "our Father" in a more specific sense (but only as a matter of appropriation).

So, yes, Jesus is most certainly our Father -- even in his humanity, he is the Father of those saved by grace.

Many modern theologians scoff at the whole idea of calling all three persons "Father" in relation to us (see especially Fr. Karl Rahner) ... the simple fact is that the Church does occasionally call Jesus "Father" -- especially when applying certain Old Testament prophecies to the Lord (as you mentioned). Also, the Holy Spirit is sometimes called "Father" -- as in "Veni Pater pauperum", Come, Father of the poor; from the Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

Anonymous said...

Father Erlenbush,

When I think about the Incarnation, and the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit, I see it from the vantage point of Contemplative Prayer. More specifically, the Prayer of Union that takes place in what St. Teresa of Avila calls the Seventh Mansions-Spiritual Marriage. The Immaculate Conception of Mary was the ideal preparation for this Prayer of Union, and when joined with Mary's fiat, produced the conformity of wills that brought about the Incarnation and the Hypostatic Union of Jesus. To me the Incarnation is the highest form of the Prayer of Union that is possible for a purely human contemplative. Mary is called the patroness of contemplatives. Has Mary ever been given the title of the Queen of Contemplatives?

There has been some reference made in the postings as to the form in which Jesus is consubstantial with the other Two Persons of the Holy Trinity. To me this has a direct application as to the way that God created Eve and the generation of Christ's human nature. The importance of Eve being made from a rib of Adam, being bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, is that she was consubstantial with Adam. Of all the creatures that God brought before Adam only Eve was consubstantial, and made in the image and likeness of God. In the same way Christ, being made from a part of Mary's body through conception and birth, took on a humanity that is consubstantial with Mary.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, you have the consubstantial thing exactly right!

I don't know whether Mary is called Queen of Contemplatives ... as you mention, she is certainly the perfect model of contemplative prayer -- for she conceived Christ in her hear/soul/mind before she conceived him in her womb.

Peace and blessings to you! +

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