I'm starting this thread to take a fresh look at both the logic and "theo-logic" of the classic, "Mother of God" syllogism. I've always had a problem with it, but have never been to work out exactly why until recently. So I'll begin by stating the syllogism, then doing my best to defend it and then conclude by showing why it does not hold up to scrutiny. Your comments and critiques are most welcome.
Part 1: The Syllogism Stated
- Mary is the Mother of Jesus.
- Jesus is God.
- Therefore, Mary is the Mother of God.
- This is a valid categorical syllogism if and only if there are exactly 3 terms.
- The major term is "Mary the Mother of."
- The minor term is "God"
- The middle term is "Jesus"
- The middle term, "Jesus," must be distributed at least one time. (And in fact is.)
Part II: Defending the Syllogism
Everything seems to check out. But just in case there are any gain-sayers, I'd like to beef up the defenses of this argument. Let me begin be scrutinizing each term.
- "Mary is the mother of," means quite simply that Mary conceived, gave birth to, and raised Jesus.
- "Jesus" means the incarnate word of God who is both fully human and fully divine.
- "God" in this syllogism refers strictly to the "Second Person of the Trinity," not the "Father" and not the "Holy Spirit"
To give the original syllogism more logical precision, therefore, we will need to make some qualifications:
Mary is is the mother of (all of) Jesus. [This is a Type A (universal and affirmative) proposition.] Contra Nestorianism, Mary gave birth to an entire person, not a particular nature.
(Some of) Jesus is God. [This is a Type I (particular and affirmative) proposition.] Though awkward sounding, properly speaking, only the divine "half" of Jesus is God. We would not want to collapse his humanity into his divinity (e.g., Docetism, Monophysitisim).
Mary is the Mother of (part of) God. [This is also a Type Type 1 (particular and affirmative) proposition]. Mary, of course, is not the Mother of the Holy Spirit and the Father, which why we say, "part of" God, however awkward that may sound.
If I am correct in discerning the types of propositions these are (and I'm not sure I am), then we have a A, I, I, mood, which is one of the 8 valid moods in a categorical syllogism.
I am, however, not positive about the conclusion. I suppose one could argue that "Mary is the Mother of (part of) God" is really a type A proposition, since we are really saying that (All of) of Mary is Mother of (part of) God. If this is the case, then the mood is A,I, A, which not a valid mood. This would mean that the classic syllogism is in fact invalid. It might be true, but certainly would not be valid.
However, let's assume that I was right the first time, that it is in fact an A, I, I and is therefore valid. If so, it would appear that the Catholics are right in calling Mary "the Mother of God."
Part III: My critique
Except for one thing. "Mary the Mother of" must have the exact same meaning in the major premise as it does in the conclusion. The problem, however, is that it does not. Here is why.
- Mary is the mother of Jesus. (This does in fact mean that Mary conceived, gave birth to and raised) Jesus of Nazareth.
- Jesus is God. (This does in fact mean that Jesus is the incarnate word and Second person of the Trinity).
- Mary is the mother of God. (Unfortunately, "mother of" seems to have a slightly different meaning here, as I will explain below:)
The term "mother," is a relational term. It has both an ontological meaning and a functional meaning. Anyone who is adopted understands this distinction. A biological mother is the person who gives her DNA to the child. In this sense she is the "origin" of her child. But the woman who raises a child is also properly called the "mother" of that child. This sense is what I am calling the "functional" sense of the term.
It seems to me that Mary is the "mother of" Jesus in both the ontological and functional sense of the word, "mother." But in the conclusion, Mary can only be the "mother of" God in the functional sense, since there is no way she can be the "origin" of God. Rather, the reverse is true: God is the origin of Mary, not the other way around.
Therefore, what we have is a classic "four-term" fallacy or the fallacy of equivocation. The term "mother of" means one thing in the first premise and something else in the conclusion.
For this reason, it is better to call Mary the God-bearer, which is clearly "functional," rather than "ontological." It is a more precise term that avoids the confusion that "mother of" can lead to. So here is a new syllogism to consider:
Mary is the bearer of Jesus.
Jesus is God.
Mary is the God-bearer.
Or, to keep it more simple: Mary is the Theotokos.
For this reason, we should neither describe Mary as the "Mother of God," nor use "Mother of God" as a title.
Thanks in advance for your thoughtful responses.