Friday, December 24, 2010

Was it through an umbilical cord that God intermingled with humanity?

Merry Christmas!  At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation, remembering when Jesus was born fully God and fully human. 

Being all-powerful, God could have just whipped up a god-man without involving the human biological processes of conception, pregnancy or neo-natal development.  But both the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds speak of Jesus being conceived through the union of the Holy Spirit with Mary.  The Nicene Creed further emphasizes human biological processes by adding the phrase “genitum non factum” or, “begotten not made”. 

The process of Jesus being “begotten not made” is so pivotal that Catholics weekly profess this belief while reciting the Nicene Creed.   Therefore, Catholics firmly believe Jesus was born because Mary’s egg was fertilized by the Holy Spirit, implanted into her uterine wall, nourished by Mary and grew into a baby over a normal nine-month human pregnancy.  Anything else would be “made not begotten” rather than “begotten not made”.

Catholic tradition also asserts Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant”.  In the Old Testament, the ark housed the stone tablets containing the covenant and manna (bread).  Furthermore, the presence of God overshadowed the ark.  Because the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and her womb carried Jesus, the new bread of life and new covenant, Catholics refer to Mary as the “Ark of the New Covenant”.  This title is intended to be very respectful of Mary and her special role.

Referring to Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant dates back to at least the 3rd century A.D. Gregory the Wonder Worker (c. 213 – 270) in his “Homily on the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin Mary” called Mary, “the ark of thy sanctuary”. 

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.296-373) also wrote of Mary, “For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word?  To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin?  You are greater than them all O Ark of the Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold!  You are the ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides” (Homily of the Papyrus of Turin).

Though early theologians’ understanding of human reproductive biology (begetting) rivaled a toddler’s comprehension of nuclear physics, today’s Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2676) borrows words from these early writers. "Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is ‘the dwelling of God . . . with men’”.  To church leaders, Mary’s motherhood is as a “dwelling place”.

My questions arise when I consider a mother’s role in neo-natal development versus an ark’s role as a detached, inanimate box, a “dwelling place”.  Mary wasn’t an inanimate object nor was she detached from the child she carried.  That’s because a mother doesn’t just “carry” her child.  She contributes to the child: 50% of its DNA and 100% of its in-utero physical development.  The child she nurtures is literally a part of her. 

Not only does the mother nourish the child through the umbilical cord, her body will nourish her growing child first, leaving whatever nutrients remain for her own body.  If nutrition falls short, the mother will suffer first and the most.  Jesus fed the world but first he was fed by Mary.

Therefore, to me, it is degrading to Mary, motherhood and women to reduce her pregnancy to that of a passive receptacle, a “dwelling place”.   Detaching Jesus from the integration and intimacy between him and his mother that occurred during pre-natal development also seems to dehumanize Jesus. 

This teaching provides insight into church leaders’ views on women and their role in pregnancy.  They fixate upon the uterus passively housing a growing child and overlook the life-giving umbilical cord actively connecting mother and child, actively feeding and forming the child.  Perhaps it seems a subtlety, lost to someone who has never been pregnant, such as the entire Magisterial body of church hierarchs.  But a mother knows she actively interacts with and contributes to her in-utero child.  She is not a “dwelling place”.

Why do church leaders reduce Mary’s pregnancy to a passive “dwelling place”?  The Ark of the Covenant contributed nothing to the covenant itself yet Mary contributed significantly to Jesus, albeit all things she gave originated from God.  Why do church leaders seem to ignore the umbilical cord feeding Jesus from Mary’s own body?  Was it through the umbilical cord that God truly intermingled with, versus resided within, humanity during Jesus’ pre-natal formation?

A dwelling place is dispensable and replaceable because the living body inside the dwelling place surpasses it in importance.  Do church leaders believe women are dispensable, replaceable dwelling places of lesser importance than their in-utero children?  Have they reflected upon what it means to be “begotten not made” in light of modern understanding of human biology?

Thank you to the readers from all 16 countries that follow this blog.

Merry Christmas! 
Glædelig jul og godt nytår! (Danish)
Fröhliche Weihnachten! (German)
Joyeux Noël!  (French)
Prettige kerstdagen!  (Dutch)
Meri Kirihimete me ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa!  (Maori)
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Maligayang Pasko, Manigong bagong taon (Tagalog)
С Рождеством Христовым (Russian)
Selamat Hari Natal (Malay)
聖誕快樂 新年快樂 (Chinese)
Christmas matrum puthaandu vaazthukkal (Tamil)
Vesel božič in srečno novo leto (Slovenian)
Geseënde Kersfees  (Afrikaans)
jeulgeoun seongtanjeol bonaesigo saehae bok manhi bateusaeyo (Korean)
Schöni Wienachte (Swiss German)
Buon Natale (Italian)
Legreivlas fiastas da Nadal (Rumantsch)
Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda (Welsh)
Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ùr (Scottish Gaelic)
Feliz Navidad! (Spanish)

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