“Well, doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?”
Elizabeth Willing Powel, intimate friend of Martha and George Washington, reputedly asked Benjamin Franklin that question in 1787 as Franklin emerged from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
“A republic if you can keep it,” Franklin replied, according to the notes of Dr. James McHenry, a Maryland delegate.
The question now is much bigger. It’s not merely the “republic” that is at stake, but civilization itself. There is always a hefty tug downward into increasing chaos in a fallen world. A healthy civilization provides the order, the strength of resistance, that keeps nations from being dragged into pits of madness.
“Civilization is hideously fragile and there’s not much between us and the horrors underneath, just about a coat of varnish,” said CP Snow.
Will Durant spent a lifetime studying and writing about civilizations. They “begin with religions and stoicism,” then “end with skepticism and unbelief.” Finally, “the undisciplined pursuit of individual pleasure” snuffs out the healthy society.
W.B. Yeats poetically pondered the turmoil of disintegrating societies, and wrote in his famous poem, “The Second Coming,” that
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...
What is one of the strongest civilizational “centres” when everything spins and spins into increasing pandemonium?
The answer: Motherhood. Mom.
“It is mothers who civilize us,” wrote John A. Perricone, a priest and professor of philosophy, in Crisis Magazine.
“The family is the nucleus of civilization,” said Will Durant. In the ideal arrangement envisioned by God, the father is the “head” of the family, but the mother is the heart. "My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw,” recalled George Washington. “All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her."
No woman, however, shows the importance of motherhood as much as Mary, the young Hebrew virgin that millions of people today still call Theotokos, “mother of God.”
Whether Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic, or unlabeled, we should not ignore the example and importance of the mother of the Lord of history.
The infinite Kingdom of Heaven arrived into the world of finite space, matter, and time in Mary’s womb. Apart from that, she would have lived out her life in obscurity and been buried in a plot of earth soon forgotten.
Mary had something greater, even, than a baby inside her body: The Christ and the Kingdom of Christ. This was an entire civilization, the Kingdom of righteousness-justice, peace, and transcendent joy. (Romans 14:17)
Mary’s body was the chamber in which God the Son was humbling Himself, taking on the form of a bond-servant and the appearance of a man, setting aside the prerogatives of Deity, letting finitude squeeze Him into a material structure — hands that could be pierced in earth-time to reconcile the whole universe to its Creator, feet that would carry Him to people desperately needing His touch, and a head that would bear a crown of thorns. (See Philippians 2:5-11)
The Fetus sheltering and growing in Mary’s womb was the Singularity within the human race. He was the son of the mortal woman, and simultaneously the direct offspring of the eternal God. The Child was the embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven, the highest form of what people would come to call “civilization.” One day some thirty years after His entry into space, matter, and time, Jesus would declare that, “if I drive out the demons by the finger of God then the kingdom of God has already come upon you.” (Luke 11:20 AMP)
In His last moments on the cross Jesus honored His mother. Young John was there, along with Mary and the other women who had dared follow Jesus up Golgotha hill. Suspended in agony above that craggy slope, the Lord’s concern was for His mother’s well-being. Apparently, Joseph, her husband, had already died. Jesus called upon John to receive her as his very own mother, and for Mary to regard John as her own son.
Jesus’s honoring of Mary in this way was not a merely pragmatic action, but an act of obedience to the Fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and mother.” (Exodus 20:12) In his Letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul will note that this is the “first commandment with a promise.” (Ephesians 6:2) We would do well now to reflect on the promise attached to the commandment to honor our parents: “... that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
The quality of life in this world is tied directly to honoring mother and father.
That brings us back to the concern for civilization. The stability and richness of a civilized society depend upon the stability and richness of its institutions. Motherhood is a vital institution of society. In honoring our mothers, we learn and show respect.
Parents are fallen human beings like all the rest, and sometimes behave dishonorably. Even then, however, we must honor the God-established office of parent.
It is in giving honor to mother (and father) that the civilizing values and behaviors that enable it to “go well” for us in “the land” take effect
A healthy civilization cannot exist without mothers. “Let children rest upon their mother’s bosom, for they lean on one of the pillars of civilization,” wrote Professor Perricone. “Then let those children, especially those grown to adulthood, learn well what mothers teach... And all of it spoken without uttering a single word,” he said.
We still need mom, and more than ever, for the sake of our children and their civilization, we need to honor mom.
Wallace Henley is a former pastor, White House and congressional aide, and author of more than 25 books. His newest is Two Men From Babylon: Nebuchadnezzar, Trump, and the Lord of History, published by Thomas Nelson.