The 20th century was characterized in advanced societies by a growing feminism. It might be said that this trend was a reaction to the lack of respect accorded to women in the past. Thus, contemporary feminism finds its roots in the absence of true respect or womanhood, which has characterized much of human history â€" even much of Christian history.
Revealed truth as found in Scripture and in the life and ministry of Christ teaches us something different. Respect for woman, amazement at the mystery of womanhood, and finally the love of God himself and of Christ as expressed in the scheme of redemption are all elements that have never been completely absent in the faith and life of the church. This can be seen in a rich tradition of customs and practices that, regrettably, is nowadays being eroded. In civilization today, woman has become largely an object of pleasure.
It is very significant, on the other hand, that in the midst of this very situation an authentic theology of woman is being reborn. The spiritual beauty, the particular genius of women is being rediscovered. The basis for the consolidation of the position of women in life, not only family life but also social and cultural life, is being redefined. The proper significance of womanhood in the Christian religion is shown in the respect Jesus had or women, the apostle Paulâ€™s admonitions about mutual submission of husband and wife to each other, and his words that husbands are to love their wives â€śjust as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herâ€ť Ephesians 5:25).
A new look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, might help Protestants recover a healthy respect for women. In the early centuries a great debate took place between the church at Alexandria and the church at Constantinople, two centers of power in the Church that were rivals to each other. Cyril of Alexandria and other Alexandrians affirmed Mary as â€śmother of God.â€ť At Constantinople, the patriarch Nestorius disagreed, taking the position that Mary could not be called â€śmother of Godâ€ť but was simply the mother of the human Jesus.
At first glance, most Protestants would perhaps tend to side with Nestorius and be horrified to think that Mary could be referred to as the mother of God. And yet, it should be asked of all who deny the claim if they mean to claim that the child who was born of Mary was not in any way God. That puts a different spin on the issue. Besides, the literal translation is â€śbearer of Godâ€ť which makes even more sense because Mary was the one who gave birth to the one who is God.
At the Council of Calcedon in A.D. 451, the Church mediated the issue by affirming that Mary was â€śmother of Godâ€ť but immediately added the words â€śas regards his manhood.â€ť It was an ingenious compromise. It was also a necessary in order to give proper respect to Mary and at the same time avoid deifying her. After all, what Mary bore was God in human flesh. But at the same time, she was herself in need of redemption, as shown by her presence in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost, waiting for the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In the present day, Mary cannot be a model for women if she is deified and seen as a co-redeemer along with Christ. Certainly the papal claims of her immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, and bodily assumption have no basis in biblical revelation. No other woman could in any way follow such a pattern. By exalting Mary too highly, we place her out of reach for other women. No woman could emulate such a pattern.
She can provide a beautiful model for women if seen in her humanness â€" one that is completely open to God. In the past Protestants have neglected Mary unduly, but the increasing importance of womenâ€™s issues has spurred new interest in Mary among Catholics and Protestants alike.