The Mother of God

Published on December 24, 2010 by in General Mariology

The following article is an excerpt from a chapter in the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion. The book is now available from Queenship Publications. To obtain a copy, visit Visit and search on “Mariology: A Guide” to view the book in its entirety, or simply click here.
Asst. Ed


The Divine Maternity as a Constituent of the “Fundamental Principle” in Mariology

The Virgin Mary … is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer. Redeemed by reason of the merits of her son and united to him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth (1).

These words, taken from the Second Vatican Council, show very well the central importance of Mary as the Mother of God. The most relevant Marian dogma, the divine maternity, is essentially linked to the most important Christological dogma, the hypostatic union: in the person, or hypostasis, of the eternal Son of God are united the divine and the human nature of Christ. The definition of the title Theotókos (God-bearer) at the Council of Ephesus (431) underlines the unity of the two natures of Christ in the same personal subject: as Jesus Christ is one person, the Son of God who assumed a human nature from the Virgin Mary, she must be the Mother of God. Obviously Mary does not generate God in his divinity, but she generates the Son of God in his humanity, because he takes his human nature from her. For this reason her dignity is above that of the whole of creation. She is truly “Mother of God.”

Every Christian who wants to develop a balanced view about Mary must consider the divine maternity at the beginning of his reflections. In modern theology, the centrality of this belief manifests itself in the discussion about the so-called “fundamental principle” in Mariology (2). There are different answers to this question which should be the foundational truth for any systematic reflection about the Holy Virgin. The various reflections, in any case, have to integrate the divine maternity into this fundamental truth. The discussion about the “fundamental principle” does not mean that every doctrine of faith about Mary can be deduced from this basic truth in a “geometrical” way. But there is a kind of center to which these single doctrines “move” and from which they “come.” Already by the twelfth century, Eadmer, a famous theologian from the Middle Ages, deduces affirmations about Mary from the fact that she is the Mother of God (3), whereas a Greek theologian, John the Geometer (tenth century), praises the perpetual virginity as the basic Marian truth (4). A more systematic discourse begins after the Council of Trent and uses the terms “first principle” and “fundament.” Lawrence of Brindisi (+1619) calls the divine maternity the “first principle of the nobility and dignity of Mary” (5). Also Francis Suarez, S.J. (+1617), “the founder of systematic or scholastic Mariology” (6), thinks that the dignity of being the Mother of God is the fundament from which can be developed everything about the Blessed Virgin (7).

Systematic discussion concerning the “fundamental principle,” with various solutions, was only begun in the twentieth century; the most important starting point, still valuable, is an article by the Belgian theologian Jacques Bittremieux in 1931 (8). Bittremieux, already famous for his systematic study on the universal mediation of Mary (9), proposed a double basic principle: Mary as “Mother of God and Helpmate of the Redeemer” (mater Dei et consors Filii sui Redemptoris). According to him, the divine maternity and Mary’s association with the redemption are linked to one another: Mary’s role as Helpmate of the Redeemer is based on her divine maternity, whereas her divine maternity leads to Mary being the companion of our Savior in redemption. Bittremieux makes a comparison with the mystery of Christ discussed in the Summa Theologiae: Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the mysteries of his life (what Christ has accomplished and suffered for us) (10). As Christology and soteriology were later distinguished from one another, so it is possible to present Mary as the Mother of God (oriented to the incarnated Son of God) and as the Helpmate of the Redeemer.

The theological discussion after Bittremieux did not arrive at a conclusion accepted by all specialists in Mariology but the various proposals tended towards this dual structure: accentuating the divine maternity (which prolongs itself into the spiritual motherhood for the Church) and Mary’s cooperation in the work of salvation, with the culminating points at the Annunciation and under the Cross. “This dual structure corresponds to the order of redemption with the Incarnation and the death on the Cross; neither in this order can be reduced to a single principle” (11). Proposals which do not integrate the divine maternity into the fundamental principle of Mariology risk ruining the whole systematic approach to the figure of Mary, as happens, for example, with the theory of Karl Rahner who presents the fact that Mary has been perfectly redeemed as the fundamental principle of Mariology; according to him, the divine maternity is also included in this reception of redemption (12). Here the active cooperation of Mary in redemption is not taken seriously, a defect typical for approaches which only present the Holy Virgin as the type of the Church it its receptivity, without putting any value on her association with the redemptive work of Christ. Matthias Joseph Scheeben, the most renowned German theologian of the nineteenth century, tries to describe this duality as a single principle, speaking of a “bridal mother” and a “maternal bride.” With her fiat at the Annunciation, her divine maternity takes on a “bridal” aspect: Mary consents to the proposal of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to become the Mother of the Savior. Her cooperation at redemption, on the other side, is totally determined by her being the Mother of God: it is a maternal mediation in Christ (13).

Biblical Foundation (14)

Holy Scripture does not contain the explicit title, “Mother of God,” but offers the doctrinal basis for this expression. The correct understanding of the figure of Mary depends on a true understanding of the person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God (Jn 1:14). When discussing the biblical foundation for calling Mary Mother of God, we have to take into consideration all the affirmations which link the divinity of Jesus with the maternity of Mary.

The most important scriptural passage comes from the Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians: in the fullness of time, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:4-5) (15). It is the only passage of the Pauline letters which contains an allusion to Mary, because the Apostle of the Gentiles does not report many biographical details about the life of Christ. He focuses his attention on the Incarnation (especially in Phil 2:5-11), and particularly focuses on the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor 15:3-8). This is the reason why Paul gives very little information about the Mother of Christ: he does not even mention her name. The aim of the passage in Galatians is to underline the true humanity of Christ, “born” of a woman and under the law of Moses (cf. Gal 4:4-5). The Son of God has taken upon himself the human condition of a Jew, in order to introduce humanity into the life of God as adopted sons.

Nevertheless, we may consider Galatians 4:4 the most important passage for dogmatic Mariology in the whole New Testament (16). God (the Father) sends his Son into the world: this formulation presupposes the preexistence of the Son before being born of the woman, that is, we find here a hint of the divinity of Christ (for other references to the divinity of Christ in the Pauline letters, see in particular 1 Cor 8:6; Phil 2:5-11). If the Son of God is born by Mary, she can later on be called “Mother of God.” In the most ancient New Testament passage about Mary we find her strictly united to the event of the Incarnation; for this reason it is not possible to separate her from her Son. It should also be noted that Paul, speaking about the human condition of Jesus, does not mention any human paternity in the process of generation; he only indicates the “woman.” This fact can be seen as an implicit reference to the virginal maternity of Mary (17).

The Gospel of Luke, which gives us the most abundant references about the Virgin Mary, also contains a most significant testimony about her divine maternity. In the Annunciation narrative, the evangelist links the maternity of Mary with the divinity of Christ: “Therefore, he who is to be born of you shall be holy and shall be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35b). Whereas St. John the Baptist is conceived in a normal way, though the sterility of Elizabeth is overcome miraculously (cf. Lk 1:5-25), Jesus is generated from the Virgin Mary by the force of the Holy Spirit without any intervention of a human father. Here we see the difference between the greatest prophet and the Son of God. The Gospel of Luke does not speak explicitly of the preexistent divinity of Christ, but this conviction is certainly implicit. Moreover, for Luke, the preeminence of Jesus is not only linked to the virginal conception, but also to his being the Son of God even before assuming human nature in the womb of the Holy Virgin.

We should note that already the hymn to Christ in the Letter to the Philippians, with its formulations taken by Paul from the primitive Christian community, clearly professes the preexistence of the Son of God (Phil 2:5-11). This text is even older than the Gospel of Mark, the first, according to some, in chronological order of the synoptic gospels. For this reason, and on the basis of a historical analysis of New Testament sources, we can exclude the theory that belief in the divinity of Christ is present only in the “late” Gospel of John (18).

After the Annunciation, the scene of the Visitation also gives a precious reference regarding the divine maternity. Elizabeth proclaims, face to face with Mary: “To what do I owe that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43). The Greek word for “Lord” is Kyrios, a term used abundantly by the Septuagint (the most important Greek translation of the Old Testament) for referring to God without using his revealed name (Yahweh) which, at the time of Jesus, was never pronounced by the Jews. Also, in the immediate context of Elizabeth’s question, the term “Lord” clearly refers to God (Lk 1:45-46). The Lord proclaimed by Luke is therefore the divine Lord (19). Thus it is only a small step from the expression “mother of the Lord” to the title “Mother of God.”

The Visitation can be compared with the account of the journey of the Ark of the Old Covenant to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:1-15). Many exegetes see in these parallels an implicit hint in the Gospel that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant in which God himself comes to visit mankind and to sanctify John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth, who prophesies in the joy of the Holy Spirit (20). Here we also see a link between Mary’s divine maternity and her spiritual motherhood: when Mary is arriving and greeting Elizabeth, John the Baptist is sanctified and in this way receives a fruit of the mediation of Christ, mediated by the Mother of the Lord.

Whereas the strongest biblical testimonies about the divine maternity can be found in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and in the Gospel of Luke, some discrete hints are also present in Matthew, Mark and John. Matthew, recording the prophecy of Isaiah about the birth of the “Emmanuel” (Is 7:14), mentions that this name signifies “God with us” (Mt 1:23).


Taken strictly, this expression already indicates the divinity of Christ, that is to say, that Jesus is the Son of God conceived in the womb of a virgin. … In such wise, Jesus is at the same time Son of God and son of Adam (21).


The Gospel of Mark does not contain such an explicit hint, although Jesus is called “son of Mary” (Mk 6:3), whereas the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke speak of the “son of the carpenter” (Mt 13:55) or the “son of Joseph” (Lk 4:22) (as the Jews thought him to be). Matthew and Luke can mention Joseph as “father” of Jesus without any problem, because readers already know Christ’s divine origin from the infancy narratives. Mark, who begins his account with Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, calls Jesus “son of Mary,” contrary to the normal practice of mentioning children according to their paternal lineage. This procedure hints at the virginal peculiarity of Mary’s motherhood (22). Already Mark is putting the profession of faith that Jesus Christ is the “Son of God” at the very center of his message (Mk 1:1; 9:7; 14:61-62; 15:39, etc.).

The testimony of John for the divinity of Jesus is quite explicit (Jn 1:1; 20:28; 1 Jn 5:20). In the narratives about the miracle of Cana and the death of Christ on the Cross, Mary is not mentioned by her name, but called the “mother” of Jesus (Jn 2:1; 19:25). Given the premise that her Son is the eternal Word made flesh (Jn 1:14), the divine maternity is evidently a truth implicitly present in the Gospel of John. Under the Cross, the maternity of Mary is extended by Christ to the beloved disciple, who represents all believers in him: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27) (23). This spiritual maternity of Mary manifests itself as a consequence of her being Mother of God. This systematical perspective, developed later on in the Church, is hinted at already in the biblical source. Mary is not only the mother of the divine Son, but she also takes care of the adoptive children of God. The divine maternity cannot be separated from her maternal mediation.



The Patristic Tradition until the End of the Fourth Century (24)


The First Testimonies about the Divine Maternity before the Appearance of the Technical Term Theotókos

In the beginning of the patristic tradition, the maternity of Mary is emphasized against Gnostic heresies, which denied the true humanity of Jesus. As early as the first century, Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107), one of the Apostolic Fathers, stresses the real birth and death of Jesus Christ against the idea that our Lord was not truly born of Mary and only “appeared” to die on the Cross. This heretical view is called “Docetism” (from dokein, to seem). Ignatius teaches the true corporality of the incarnate Son of God:


Be deaf whenever one speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, of Mary, who was really born, ate and drank, was really persecuted under Pontius Pilate … who really rose from the dead (25).


Together with the real birth of Christ by the Virgin Mary, Ignatius also underlines the unity of Christ, who as the eternal Son of God unites divinity and humanity: “There is but one physician, bodily and spiritual, born and unborn, God who became flesh, true life in death, from Mary, from God, first suffering and then impassible, Jesus Christ, our Lord” (26). Christ is only one personal subject, but he unites in himself divine and human attributes. Speaking of him as “God who became flesh” reflects the truth that later came to be called “communication of idioms:” the divine and human attributes (“idioms” are the specific proprieties) can be attributed to the same divine person in which they “communicate.” The unity of Christ as the divine person, the eternal Son who has assumed a human nature, is the systematical basis from which we can speak of Mary as Mother of God. The technical term “hypostatic union” only comes into use later on, but what it signifies is perfectly present in the Church’s teaching from the beginning, as we can see with the example of Ignatius.

The most important Father who combats Gnosticism is Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons at the end of the second century. He was brought up in the circle of Bishop Polycarp at Smyrna, who was himself a pupil of the Apostle John. Irenaeus refutes the Docetism of Marcion: According to his heretical position, Jesus was not born of the Virgin Mary, but came to earth as an adult, first presenting himself in the synagogue of Capernaum. Marcion also held that Jesus’ body was not a true body but only an illusion; for this reason Marcion eliminated the infancy narratives in the gospels (27). The Gnostics from the school of Valentinus accepted the maternity of Mary, but only in an improper way: according to them, the Son of God came to earth with a heavenly body which only passed through the womb of Mary as water passes through a channel (28). According to these Docetist errors, Jesus “was born through a virgin, but not of a virgin, and in a womb, not of a womb” (29). Whereas Marcionites said that Jesus only appeared to have a human body, without becoming human, and Valentinians pretended that he became human without receiving anything from Mary, Irenaeus teaches that Jesus really and truly became man from the Virgin; otherwise his saving Passion would be without any importance for us (30). “The Son of God was born of the Virgin” (31).

Presenting together the birth of Christ from the Virgin Mary and the rebirth of Christians from the “maternal womb” of baptism in the Church, Irenaeus gives a strong hint as to the relation between the divine maternity of Mary and the spiritual maternity of the Church: the Son of God, the “pure one purely opens the pure womb, which regenerates men in God, which he himself had made pure” (32).

The true maternity of the Virgin Mary is also affirmed, against Gnostic errors, in professions of faith such as the catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem (+387): the Word “became man not apparently or in our fantasy, but really. He did not pass through the Virgin like passing through a channel, but he has really taken flesh from her” (33). For this reason, the professions of faith (like the Apostles’ Creed or the creed formulated by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople) do not say that the Son of God is born “by” the Virgin Mary (per in Latin, dià in Greek), but “from” or “of” the Holy Virgin (ex Maria Virgine, in Greek, ek) (34).

The maternity of Mary guarantees the true humanity of Jesus Christ. As Mother of the Son of God, Mary also manifests the divinity of Christ. The decisive basis for the divine maternity is the communication of idioms, formulated in the third century by Tertullian: the Son of God is “born” and then “died” on the Cross. (35) This theological foundation is more important than the phrase “Mother of God,” which does not yet appear in the works of this theologian. In the same century, the Alexandrian theologian Origen had probably already used the expression Theotókos (36), but his Christology poses some problems as to the communication of idioms (37).

The Council of Nicea (325) defends the divinity of Christ against Arius, for whom the divine Word was not God but only a magnificent creature existing from time immemorial. The technical term for “Mother of God,” Theotókos, which literally means “God-bearer” in Greek, was already being used in Egypt before Nicea. The Greek term which literally means “Mother of God,” mêter theou, was used later on, and more rarely. The first incontrovertible use of the term Theotókos is found around the year 320 in the letter of Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, who announces the deposition of Arius to Alexander, bishop of Constantinople:


After this we know of the resurrection of the dead, the first-fruits of which was our Lord Jesus Christ, who in very deed, and not merely in appearance, carried a body, of Mary, Mother of God, who at the end of times came to the human race to put away any sin, was crucified and died, and yet without any detriment to his divinity, being raised from the dead, taken up into heaven, and seated at the right hand of Majesty (38).


In this text, we find the title “Mother of God” as part of a profession of faith promulgated in a circular letter from the Alexandrian Bishop Alexander, head of the Egyptian Church, to his fellow bishops. Its use without need of comment, in such an official text, presupposes that its use had already become commonplace some time before, allowing us to arrive at a date of around the third century for the origin of the term. This provenience is confirmed by an early papyrus of the famous prayer Sub Tuum Praesidium found in the desert of Egypt: the text comes from the third or (latest) from the fourth century (39): “Under your mercy, we take refuge, Mother of God, do not reject our supplications in necessity. But deliver us from danger. (You) alone chaste, alone blessed” (40).

A Pagan Origin for the Christian Doctrine of the Divine Maternity?

The word Theotókos, as such, is even older than Christianity and has a pagan origin. According to testimonies beginning in the second century of the Christian era, the term is given to the divine mother of the gods, who was not normally called Theotókos, but mêter theíon, “mother of the gods” (41). In the liberal school of the history of religion (religionsgeschichtliche Schule) during the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, the pagan origin of the word was interpreted as a proof for the thesis that ancient Christianity was a syncretism from diverse religions. These researchers insinuated that the various cults of the mother goddesses were the source of devotion to Mary and the doctrine of divine maternity. They noted that the dogma of the Theotókos was proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus (431), a city formerly known as the center of the cult to the goddess Artemis (Diana), who unites in herself maternal and virginal traits. This theory has been “recycled” by feminist publications, but also in the realms of Protestantism. Feminists present Mary as a goddess in early Christianity whose secret cult was suppressed by the patriarchal authority of the Church, and they believe that one should transfer the female traits of Mary to God, who, according to them, is our real mother in heaven (42).

From the point of view of systematic theology, Mary is also a revelation of the “female” traits of God, but in this she specifically manifests the cooperation of the creature in the redemptive work of Christ. Mary is the Mother of God and not the Divine Mother. St. Ambrose gives a brilliant summary of this account, which he formulates thus: “Mary is the temple of God, but not the God of the temple” (43). Mary, as type of the Church and of redeemed humanity, can participate in the salvation process.

From a historical point of view, the thesis of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule is plainly false (44). The origin of the divine maternity of Mary comes from Divine Revelation itself, as has been shown above. The theologians of the Ancient Church were not sympathizers of an indiscriminate reception of pagan elements into the Church, as these elements were seen prevalently as manifestations of the Devil. Tertullian, for instance, calls Cybele, the mother of the gods, magna mater daemonum (great mother of the evil spirits) (45). What Marian devotion and the goddess cults have in common is the importance of the feminine in the religious realm. For this reason we can observe a natural esteem for maternity, but also (though less evident) for virginity. In the Ancient Church the religious importance of female symbolism is underlined by accentuating human cooperation: the Church, for example, appears like the moon, which receives its light from the sun, Jesus Christ. It is the “heavenly body with the femininely soft and maternally fecund light, which receives the masculine and powerful rays of the sun and passes them, lovingly softened, down to the earth” (46).

This new accent is already prepared for in the history of Israel, beginning with the divine mission of the prophet Hosea: the love between bridegroom and spouse appears as symbol of the Covenant between God and his people, a relation which becomes the alliance between Christ and his Church in the New Testament (Eph 5:21-33). The Christian faith could assume some traits that stem from natural religiosity, such as statues of a mother giving milk to her child; this type of image could be used to depict a pagan goddess such as the divine mother Isis, but also the Mother of God. Nevertheless, these pagan expressions of religious sentiment have been exposed to a purification, a sanctification, according to the criteria given by the word of God. As to exterior parallels (like the word Theotókos), it must be made clear: a linguistic analogy is not identical with a historical origin of doctrine.

The distinction between Christianity and paganism is reflected even on the terminological level: in the first centuries, Christians had been very reticent to use the word “Mother of God” (mêter theou), as it was also used in Egyptian religion for various goddesses (especially Isis). The Egyptian Church chose a less current term, Theotókos, giving to it a specifically Christian significance. The “word was almost completely free of the undesirable pagan associations of the explicit vocabulary of ‘mother of god/gods’” (47).


The differences between Mary and Isis were well clarified: she was also “the handmaid of the Lord,” the chaste virgin whose son was true God and true man, whereas Isis was seen as a goddess, one who conceived her son in passion, entirely removed from the mysterious destiny of the Incarnation (48).


As to the definition of the title Theotókos at Ephesus, some Protestant authors suggested that because this city had been the center of the cult of Artemis (Diana) the proclamation of Mary as Mother of God was merely a continuation of the Artemis cult. In fact, as early as the very beginning of the Church, St. Paul was confronted with this cult (Acts 19:28). Artemis, called the Great Mother, was venerated as symbol of fecundity and exaltation of maternal qualities. According to this particular Protestant interpretation, the desire to have a feminine Godhead subsequently entered into Christology. As a “proof” of their theory, the authors indicated the enthusiasm with which the people of Ephesus applauded the definition of the council.

These speculative affirmations are contrary to historical reality. The title Theotókos does not come from Ephesus, but from Alexandria. The cult of Artemis was already dead by 263, when the city was plundered by the Goths. The figure of Mary could have been attractive to religious sentiments that desired to honor the feminine, which were present in people before their conversion to Christianity, but Christianity operated a profound transformation of the symbolism present in these pagan religious systems: these feminine attributes became the expression for the cooperation of the creature in the process of redemption. The Mother of God is not a secret goddess, but the most holy created person called to collaborate with God.

A later sign of this transformation is visible, even in the iconography, in the apparition of Mary at Guadalupe. The place where the Mother of God appeared was not far from a destroyed temple of the mother goddess, Tonantzin.


[The] picture of Mary that arose miraculously on the visionary’s cloak contains motifs pertaining to the world of Aztec gods: sun, moon, stars, and serpent. However, through the way that these symbols are arranged, paganism is turned completely upside-down. Mary stands before the sun and is thus more powerful than the feared sun god. She has one foot placed on the half-moon, a symbol of the feared serpent god, to whom thousands upon thousands of humans were sacrificed and whose machinations she has overcome. She is more powerful than all goddesses and gods, than the stars. And yet Mary is no goddess, for she folds her hands together in prayer and bows her head before one who is greater than she. She wears no mask in order to conceal her godly nature—as do the Aztec gods—but quite openly displays her human status (49).


Development in the Fourth Century

Already in the beginning of the fourth century, Theotókos was a term with profound roots in the Christian faith in Egypt. In the Alexandrian realm, the expression was so common that even Arians used it (certainly they cited “God” here, between quotation marks so to speak). In the works of Athanasius (+373) we find the title a dozen times (50). The fourth century also gives testimonies of the title “Mother of God” in the other regions of the Church besides Egypt. In 324-325, a synod at Antiochia (Syria) against Arius cites the Alexandrian creed and underlines: “The Son of God, the Word, is born from Mary Mother of God (Theotókos) and became flesh” (51). The Cappadocian Gregory of Nazianzus (+c.390) explains the concept of the hypostatic union in his famous Letter to Cledonius:


If anyone does not believe the holy Mary to be Theotókos, he is separated from the Godhead. If anyone should say that Christ passed through the Virgin as through a channel, and was not formed in her at once in a divine and human way, divine because without the help of man, human because subject to the law of human conception, he is equally godless. If anyone should say that first was formed the manhood of Jesus and that the God exists only after it, he too is to be condemned. … If anyone introduces two sons, one of God the Father, and the other of the Mother, but not the one and the same, he must fall away from the adoption of sons promised to the orthodox. Because there are two natures, God and man, but not two sons (52).


The title enters even in the realm of Antioch, contrary to the difficulties inherent in Antiochene theology. Antiochene Christology underlined the duality in Jesus Christ and preferred the term “Word-man” (Logos-anthropos) when speaking about him. The risk of this description is that the Word and the man Jesus can be presented as two different subjects, united only by their will (a moral, but not an ontological unity). The Alexandrian theologians, on the other hand, were accentuating the unity of Christ with the term “Word-flesh” (Logos-sarx). Their risk is to forget the clear distinction between the divine and the human nature in the incarnate Word. Whereas the Alexandrians were more inclined to accept Mary as “Mother of God,” the Antiochenes were hesitant to use the phrase, because in their theology they tended to separate the Son of God from the man Jesus Christ, in whom, for them, the Son dwells as in a temple. This tendency comes from the founder of the Antiochene school, Diodor of Tarsus (+394), the teacher of John Chrysostom (who never uses the title Theotókos) and of Theodore of Mopsuestia (+428, that is before the Council of Ephesus in 431) (53). Theodore, recognized by the Nestorians as their theological “father,” divides the actions of Christ between two distinct subjects, the man and the God who dwells in him. According to Theodore, we could only adore the Word who was incarnate in Christ, but not the man Jesus, and it was only Jesus Christ the man, and not the Word, who was born of Mary. He did not refute the title Theotókos, but affirmed: “We cannot say that God was born by the Virgin” (54). Theodore was not inclined to really accept the divine maternity because he did not arrive at the doctrine of the hypostatic union in his Christology.

Even if the Antiochene theology was not favorable to the title Theotókos, by the end of the fourth century it was diffused everywhere in the Christian Orient. In the Latin West of the Roman Empire, we find the first occurrence of the term in the Spanish writer Prudentius (+405), who speaks of Mary as Dei genitrix (God-bearer) (55). Ambrose uses the expression mater Dei (Mother of God) and affirms: “Mary has generated God” (56).

The Council of Ephesus (431) (57)

At the end of the fourth century, the title Theotókos was already widely diffused and was regarded as a part of the deposit of faith, first of all in Egypt. For this reason St. Cyril of Alexandria spoke of a “worldwide scandal” (skándalon oikumenikón), when the word was questioned. The controversy began when Nestorius, an eloquent monk from Antioch, was appointed patriarch of Constantinople in 428. He spoke out against the word Theotókos, preferring to speak of Mary as Christotókos (bearer of Christ). His difficulties, typical for the Antiochene school, came from his position against the communication of idioms, by which Christ’s human actions and sufferings can be attributed to the divine person. He suspected an influence of Arianism in the use of the title Theotókos that presented the divine Word as a creature, subject to the passions. Nestorius spoke of a single “person” in Christ (prosopon), but he intended by this word only a moral union between two individual subjects. In Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius a correct appreciation of the Blessed Virgin is blocked by their Christology: for their approach, “the humanity of Christ takes the position attributed in the traditional theology to Mary, ‘temple’ or bearer of God” (58).

The title Theotókos was defended by Cyril of Alexandria: when we say that the divine Word was born and has suffered, we do not intend to say that the divinity was born or has suffered, but we mean the humanity united to God. Mary is the Mother of God because she has born the eternal Son who has assumed human flesh, that is, she has born God according to the flesh.

Nestorius and Cyril both appealed to Pope Celestine, who took the part of Cyril. The Council of Ephesus (431), summoned by the emperor, accepted as its foundation the second letter of Cyril to Nestorius:


The Word is said to have been begotten according to the flesh, because for us and for our salvation he united what was human to himself hypostatically and came forth from a woman. For he was not first begotten of the holy virgin, a man like us, and then the Word descended upon him; but from the very womb of his mother he was so united and then underwent begetting according to the flesh, making his own the begetting of his own flesh. … So shall we find that the holy fathers believed. So have they dared to call the holy Virgin, Mother of God (Theotókos), not as though the nature of the Word or his Godhead received the origin of their being from the holy Virgin, but because there was born from her his holy body rationally ensouled, with which the Word was hypostatically united and is said to have been begotten in the flesh (59).


In other words: Jesus Christ, God and man, is one person, and for this reason Mary must be recognized as Mother of God. The activity of Mary as “God-bearer” is relevant regarding the human generation of Jesus, but not the divine generation of the Second Person of the Trinity. The Word is born from Mary “according to the flesh.” Mary is not the mother of the “Trinity,” but of God’s eternal Son. The term “God” is referring only to the person of the divine Word. Mary is not called “mother of the Godhead.”

Cyril of Alexandria began the council before the arrival of the representatives sent by the Pope and without the Syrian bishops (from the Antiochene region). The representatives of the Holy Father consented to the proclamations of the council, but it was only two years later, in 433, that Cyril could establish an agreement with the Antiochene bishops in which they accepted the title Theotókos:


We confess … that our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, perfect God and perfect man …, generated from the Father before the centuries according to the Godhead, born, for us and for our salvation, at the end of the times by the Virgin Mary according to the humanity, of the same substance of the Father according to the Godhead, and of the same substance as us according to the humanity. As a matter of fact, the union of the two natures came through, and for this reason we confess only one Christ, only one Son, only one Lord. According to this concept of non-confused union, we confess the holy Virgin Mother of God, because the Word of God incarnated himself and became man, uniting to himself from the time of conception the temple assumed from her (60).


This dogmatic agreement cleared the terminology, because Cyril had spoken of “one nature of the Word incarnate” and of “one hypostasis” of the Word. The difference between nature and hypostasis had not been evident, whereas by 433 even the patriarch of Alexandria accepted and began to speak of “two natures” in one single subject, the eternal Word, the Son of God.

The creed of reunion in 433 prepared for the definition of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which accentuated that there are two natures in the hypostatic union of Christ that are neither separated nor mixed. In this context we once again find the title Theotókos:


One and the same Son … begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer, as regards his humanity (61).


The intention of the Council of Ephesus to correct the doctrine of Nestorius was renewed by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, which formally approved the twelve anathemas of Cyril of Alexandria against Nestorius (at Ephesus they had only been collected in the Acts without receiving any formal approval) (62). In the first anathema, we read: “If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore not confess that the holy Virgin is the Mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh), let him be anathema” (63). The council gives some more assessments, especially the following condemnation: “If anyone affirms that the holy glorious and perpetual Virgin Mary is Mother of God only in an improper sense but not truly … let him be anathema” (64). The synod also speaks of the “two births” of the divine Word, “one before the ages from the Father, above time and incorporeal, and the other in these latest times” from Mary (65).

The Council of Ephesus was accompanied by the enthusiasm of the faithful (from which Nestorius had to escape):


The night on which the decrees were promulgated, crowds of the faithful took to the streets and shouted enthusiastically, “Hagia Maria Theotókos,” “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” … The proclamation of Mary as Theotókos … thus caused great joy among the local populace who accompanied the Fathers of the council to their homes with lights and singing (66).


The Council of Ephesus inspired the most famous Marian homily of antiquity, attributed to St. Cyril of Alexandria. The Egyptian patriarch describes Mary as “scepter of the true faith” (67). In an enthusiastic praise of the Blessed Virgin, the divine motherhood is also shown to have spiritual consequences for our salvation:


Through thee, the Trinity is glorified; through thee, the Cross is venerated in the whole world … through thee, angels and archangels rejoice, through thee, demons are chased … through thee, the fallen creature is raised to heaven … through thee, churches are founded in the whole world, through thee, peoples are led to conversion (68).


The invocations of Mary’s universal mediation with the formulation “through thee” finish with the words: “through thee … kings reign, in the name of the Trinity” (69). It seems that Mary is presented here as personal instrument for the operation of the Triune God, similar to the Trinitarian function of the Church (70). “This is a statement of Mary’s mediation, an inspired utterance by a man privileged to unite his personal intuition with the revealed truth of God” (71). We find in these words the intrinsic link between the divine maternity and Mary’s relation with the Most Holy Trinity, with the mystery of the Church and the universal mediation of grace.

The Council of Ephesus gave a strong impulse for the development of Marian devotion. A typical example is architecture. At the time of the council, some churches were already dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, for instance at Ephesus (the council took place in the church of St. Mary). But after the council, many more churches were consecrated to the Mother of God. The most famous case is the construction of the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) at Rome by Pope Sixtus III soon after the council. The mosaics of the triumph arch manifest the Church’s faith in the divine motherhood (72).


History of the Dogma Following the Council of Ephesus

With the Council of Ephesus we already have the essence of Catholic dogma about the Mother of God. The doctrine is maintained as a precious treasure in the years following the council. A good summary of the Fathers’ doctrine can be found in the systematic presentation of St. John Damascene at the end of the patristic period:


Moreover we proclaim the holy Virgin to be in strict truth the Mother of God. For inasmuch as he who was born of her was true God, she who bore the true God incarnate is the true Mother of God. For we hold that God was born of her, not implying that the divinity of the Word received from her the beginning of its being, but meaning that God the Word himself, who was begotten of the Father timelessly before the ages, and was with the Father and the Spirit without beginning through eternity, took up his abode in these last days for the sake of our salvation in the Virgin’s womb, and was without change made flesh and born of her. For the holy Virgin did not give birth to mere man but to true God: and not only God but God incarnate who did not bring down his body from heaven, nor simply passed through the Virgin as a channel, but received flesh from her, of like essence to our own and subsisting in himself. For if the body had come down from heaven and had not partaken of our nature, what would have been the use of his becoming man? For the purpose of God the Word becoming man was that the very same nature, which had sinned and fallen and become corrupted, should triumph over the deceiving tyrant and so be freed from corruption.


For John of Damascus, the word Theotókos expresses the whole mystery of the work of salvation (oikonomia), because it reveals the one divine hypostasis of the Son in two natures (73).

In the Middle Ages, the divine maternity is most often presented in the systematic context of the Incarnation (74). Thomas Aquinas, for instance, treats the whole figure of Mary in his Summa Theologiae between the questions about the mediation of Christ, God and man, and his birth (75). The treatment is integrated into the beginning of the redemptive work of Christ (76). In order to prove the divine maternity of Mary, the doctor angelicus uses the analogy of ordinary human birth. Our parents do not generate our soul, which is given directly by God, but only our body. Nevertheless, they are called our father and mother. Since every woman is called “mother” because her child has taken his body from her, then the Blessed Virgin can also be called “Mother of God” because the Son of God has taken his body from her. Who professes that the Son of God has assumed human nature in the unity of his divine person, must also recognize that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of God (77).

Another important deepening of the understanding of the doctrine regards the concept of the person. Motherhood, as such, is related not to nature, but to person. Conception and birth are attributed to the person, according to the nature in which the person is conceived or born. A human mother gives birth to a person, not a nature. When the divine person of the Word assumes human nature, it is clear that the Son of God has been conceived and was born by the Virgin. For this reason she must be called truly “Mother of God” (78).

Thomas Aquinas states that the Son of God has been eternally generated by the Father and has been temporally born by the Blessed Virgin. Thus, in Jesus Christ we find two sonships, but there is only one Son. As in God there is no change through the Incarnation, the relation between Mary and her Son is real in Mary (because it constitutes a new reality), but not in the divine Son. There is a real temporal relation of the Son with his Mother only regarding his humanity (79). This ontological clarification underlines the divine transcendence of the person of Christ and the situation of Mary as a creature.

Other important contributions arrive with Francis Suarez, who speaks of Mary’s place in the hypostatic order: the Blessed Virgin cannot be separated from the Son of God who has assumed human nature in his hypostatic union. Mary does not belong to the hypostatic union, but is strictly related to the hypostasis (person) of her Son: she makes part of the “hypostatic order” (80). The most outstanding theological contribution of the nineteenth century comes from Matthias Joseph Scheeben, who speaks about the “personal character” and the “bridal motherhood” of Mary (81).

Among the magisterial documents, special mention should be made of the Encyclical Lux Veritatis of Pius XI, written on the fifteenth centenary of the Council of Ephesus (December 25, 1931) (82). The Holy Father gave an extensive description of the doctrinal importance of this Marian dogma, which should be noted also today. Against recent attempts to rehabilitate Nestorius, Pope Pius XI underlined the traditional verdict:


The Church … protests against this futile and temerarious attempt; for she has at all times acknowledged the condemnation of Nestorius as rightly and deservedly decreed; and has regarded the doctrine of Cyril as orthodox; and has counted the Council of Ephesus among the ecumenical synods, celebrated under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and has held it in veneration (83).


Pope Pius XI also explained the pastoral ramifications of the divine motherhood of Mary. He noted, for instance, the veneration of Mary’s dignity as virginal Mother of God outside the Catholic Church, even among Protestants, and expressed the hope that these Christians would return to the one flock of Christ guided by his vicar on earth; the Blessed Virgin embraces all her erring children with motherly love and sustains the prayer for unity with her intercession (84).

Second Vatican Council and the Contemporary Magisterium

In the Second Vatican Council, the divine motherhood of Mary is treated in the mystery of Christ and the Church. As the “Council of the Church about the Church,” this ecumenical synod accentuates the similarity between the Mother of God, who as a Virgin has born the Son of God, and the Church. Mary, according to an expression of St. Ambrose, is “type of the Church” (typus Ecclesiae). The Church becomes “mother” through the believing reception of the divine Word. She bears her children, conceived by the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Gospel, and through baptism. She is also Virgin because she maintains the promise given to her divine bridegroom, virginally professing an integral faith, a solid hope and a sincere love (85).

The reform of the liturgical calendar in 1969 introduced the solemnity of Most Holy Mary Mother of God, to be celebrated on January 1. It replaced the feast of divine maternity, introduced by Pius XI in 1931 and collocated on October 11. This date of January 1, which places the feast of Mary Mother of God in relation to the Christmas mystery is well-chosen and corresponds to the most ancient tradition. In the Byzantine Church, the solemn feast of the Theotókos appears on December 26 (86).

Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (1987), records that “the dogma of the divine motherhood of Mary was for the Council of Ephesus and is for the Church like a confirmation of the dogma of the Incarnation, in which the Word truly assumes human nature into the unity of his person, without canceling out that nature” (87). In his Apostolic Letter on the dignity of woman in the light of Mary (Mulieris Dignitatem, 1988), the Holy Father shows the relation of divine motherhood with the vocation of every woman. The mystery of the Incarnation implies the faithful response of Mary, which is a full participation for her as person and as woman (88). The Pope also insisted on the perpetual importance of the title Theotókos in his Apostolic Letter on the occasion of the 1600th anniversary of the First Council of Constantinople and the 1550th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus (1991) (89). John Paul II, in a general audience, criticized the proposal of some theologians (which renews the old heresies of Arius or Nestorius) to speak of Jesus as a human person; in this case Mary would not be the Mother of God (90). Last but not least, the divine maternity was underlined in the preparation of the 2000th anniversary of the Incarnation at the Jubilee of the year 2000:


The Blessed Virgin who will be as it were “indirectly” present in the whole preparatory phase, will be contemplated in this first year especially in the mystery of her divine motherhood. It was in her womb that the Word became flesh! The affirmation of the central place of Christ cannot therefore be separated from the recognition of the role played by his Most Holy Mother. Veneration of her, when properly understood, can in no way take away from “the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator” (Lumen Gentium 62). Mary in fact constantly points to her divine Son and she is proposed to all believers as the model of faith which is put into practice. “Devotedly meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church with reverence enters more intimately into the supreme mystery of the Incarnation and becomes ever increasingly like her Spouse” (Lumen Gentium 65) (91).

The first part of this article appeared in the previous Mother of All Peoples bi-monthly edition.

Ecumenical Aspects

The Council of Ephesus, at least in a general sense, contributes to a global consensus between the great Christian denominations. This is evident for the Catholic Church, but also for the Orthodox Churches, which count Ephesus as the third ecumenical council. Ephesus is also accepted by the Coptic churches (Egypt, Ethiopia), which very much honor the tradition of St. Cyril of Alexandria, even if they have been separated from the universal Church since the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The title Theotókos, on the other hand, is not used by the spiritual heirs of the Antiochene tradition, who did not accept the Council of Ephesus and today constitute the Assyrian Church of the Orient, a group that has become very small (about 400,000 members). They call Mary “Mother of the Lord” and “Mother of Christ” (92). On November 11, 1994, the Assyrian Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV and Pope John Paul II signed a Joint Christological Declaration which affirms that Catholic and Assyrians “today are united in the profession of the same faith in the Son of God.” The document uses the Christological formulations of Chalcedon: “his divinity and his humanity are united in one person, without mixture and without separation.” The Assyrians venerate Mary as “Mother of Christ, our God and Savior.” “In the light of the same faith, the Catholic Tradition is calling the Virgin Mary ‘Mother of God’ and ‘Mother of Christ’. We both recognize the justification and correctness of these manifestations of the same faith” (93). In other words: the “ex-Nestorians” now also recognize the Catholic doctrine concerning the Mother of God, even if their liturgical tradition does not use the title Theotókos.

In Protestantism (especially among traditional Lutherans), we encounter the reference to the “consensus of the first five centuries” (consensus quinquesaecularis), which recognizes the Trinitarian and Christological councils of the Ancient Church. The theologians of the Reformation accepted the title Theotókos because it manifests the Christological dogma of the hypostatic union (and of the communication of idioms). Luther, for instance, insisted on the importance of Mary’s divine maternity:

The great thing is none other than that she became the Mother of God; in which process so many and such great gifts are bestowed upon her that no one is able to comprehend them. Thereupon follows all honor, all blessedness, and the fact that in the whole race of men only one person is above the rest, one to whom no one else is equal. For that reason her dignity is summed up in one phrase when we call her Mother of God; no one can say greater things of her or to her, even if he had as many tongues as leaves and blades of grass, as stars in heaven and sands on the seashore. It should also be meditated in the heart what that means: to be the Mother of God (94).


Nevertheless, the principles of the Reformation lead to a depreciation of Mary’s maternal role. Luther, in the same Exposition of the Magnificat text just cited above, criticizes the Marian antiphon Regina Caeli which contains the expression quem meruisti portare (whom you merited to bear). Luther compares the dignity of Mary with the dignity of the Cross whose wood “merited” to carry our Lord: everything is grace, and for this reason we cannot attribute to Mary any merit (95). For Catholic doctrine, the primary factor of divine grace does not exclude human cooperation, whereas the Protestant principle, sola gratia (grace alone), establishes a justification without any human merit sustained by grace (96).

The general acceptance of the Council of Ephesus, on the one hand, and the depreciation of Mary’s active contribution in redemption, on the other hand, constitutes a profound ambiguity in Protestant doctrine. This problem is visible in recent Protestant theology, especially in that of Karl Barth, the most renowned Calvinist theologian of the twentieth century. According to Barth, the title “Mother of God” is only “an assistant sentence for Christology” (97), which has a biblical basis (Gal 4:4; Lk 1:43) and shows the true unity between the two natures in the unique subject of Christ. Whereas Barth accepts the title Theotókos, many other Protestant theologians abandon this dogmatic attribute. Their attitude is influenced by the liberal branch of Protestantism: He who refutes the true divinity of Christ cannot accept that Mary is called “Mother of God.” Sometimes we even find a certain sympathy with Nestorius, such as in an official document of “mainstream” Lutherans in Germany which attests: “we can no longer recognize the condemnation of Nestorius who fought against the misunderstanding that God himself was born by Mary” (98).

The situation is somewhat better in Evangelical theology, which refuses the liberal negation of Christ’s divinity:


Evangelicals affirm Jesus Christ to be true God and true man. For that reason, Evangelical objections to Theotókos and “Mother of God” usually soften after a short discussion. … Certainly it was God whom Mary bore, so we gladly affirm that Mary was indeed the “God-bearer” (99).


But even in Evangelicals we find a strong uneasiness about the terminology of the Fathers because the special honor given to Mary does not fit into their conception of the unique mediation of Christ, which excludes any cooperation of redeemed creatures (100). According to Luther, not even Christ in his humanity had an active part in redemption (his human nature was only passive, suffering on the Cross as bait for the Devil, who encounters Christ’s divinity by which he is defeated) (101).

Modern Protestant theology, in any case, is divided on the title Theotókos. Normally, the word is refuted with the argument that it suggests a natural power of Mary to produce the divine nature of her Son. Some authors maintain that the title “Mother of God” is derived from mythology.


In contrast to the orthodox desire to maintain the Creed of the Ancient Church [that is, of “orthodox” Protestantism, which likes to maintain the tradition of the first ecumenical councils] and also the doctrine of Ephesus about the Mother of God, in Protestant theology [today] we find a manifold and often contradictory evaluation of the Marian doctrine [about divine maternity] (102).


In Anglicanism we find a greater acceptance of the Marian doctrine formulated in the Ancient Church. This fact is evident in the Agreed Statement about “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ,” formulated by the 2004 Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). According to this joint statement, the Council of Ephesus


used Theotókos … to affirm the oneness of Christ’s person by identifying Mary as the Mother of God the Word incarnate. The rule of faith on this matter takes more precise expression in the definition of Chalcedon: “One and the same Son … was begotten from the Father before the ages as to the divinity and in the latter days for us and our salvation was born as to the humanity from Mary the Virgin Theotókos.” In receiving the Council of Ephesus and the definition of Chalcedon, Anglicans and Roman Catholics together confess Mary as Theotókos (103).



Systematic Assessment

The Title “Mother of God” is Important for the Correct Comprehension of the Divine Person of Jesus Christ

The first intention of the Council of Ephesus was not Marian devotion, but the defense of the faith in Jesus Christ against Nestorius. The title Theotókos clearly showed the unity of the personal subject in the Word incarnate. The Nestorian danger is also present in modern theology, when some theologians speak of Jesus as a human person (104) (and not as a divine person, the eternal Son, who assumed human nature from the Virgin Mary).


The Holiness of Mary Prepares Her for the Divine Maternity

For her task to be the Mother of Christ, Mary was prepared according to the eternal plan of God. She was “predestined from eternity as Mother of God together with the Incarnation of the Word” (105). Her preservation from original sin happened in view of the Incarnation. The consent asked of Mary was formed by the theological virtue of faith, which can be compared in some way with divine maternity itself. Augustine explains this relation in a sermon, when he comments on the encounter between Jesus and his relatives: his brother, sister and mother is anyone who obeys the Father in heaven (Mt 12:48-50):


Did the Virgin Mary not do the will of the Father? She who believed by faith, conceived by faith and had been elected because our salvation should be born from her in the midst of mankind? She who had been created by Christ before Christ was created in her? Holy Mary plainly did the will of the Father: and for this reason it was more important for Mary to have been a disciple of Christ than to have been the Mother of Christ (106).


In an analogically wider sense, every virgin consecrated to the Lord and every soul devoted to God is “mother” of Christ, favoring the growth of grace in this world:


There is … no reason why the virgins of God should be sad, because they themselves also cannot, keeping their virginity, be mothers of the flesh. For him alone could virginity give birth to with fitting propriety, who in his birth could have no peer. However, that birth of the Holy Virgin is the ornament of all holy virgins; and themselves together with Mary are mothers of Christ, if they do the will of his Father … his mother is the whole Church, because she herself assuredly gives birth to his members, that is, his faithful ones. Also his mother is every pious soul, doing the will of his Father with most fruitful charity, in them of whom it travailed, until he himself be formed in them. Mary, therefore, doing the will of God, after the flesh, is only the mother of Christ, but after the Spirit she is both his sister and mother (107).


The Fathers of the Church describe the spiritual “maternity” of any disciple as a “conception” of the Word.


Such as conception, faith is, on the spiritual level, the fecund reception of a semen of life. Every Christian, … receiving the word, is conceiving God in his heart. In this perspective, faith implies a kind of spiritual motherhood; the physical divine motherhood of Mary appears as a radiation of her faith to the flesh (108).


The holiness of Mary is a gratis gift of God, as is the grace of divine maternity. Could Mary also merit to become the Mother of God? The idea of a certain merit is present, for instance, in the Marian antiphon Regina Caeli, laetare alleluia. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia, resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia. As to the kind of merit, we find a classical explanation in Thomas Aquinas, which was later developed by Francis Suarez:


The Blessed Virgin did not merit the Incarnation, but, assuming that it would take place, she merited that it would be through her, not with condign merit, but with the merit of suitability, in so far as it was fitting that the Mother of God should be a most pure and perfect Virgin (109).


Mary could not “merit,” in a strict sense, becoming the Mother of God. There is no merit of strict justice (meritum de condigno) in this case. Nevertheless, we can speak here of a merit of fittingness (meritum de congruo): with her sanctity, sustained by the grace of God, Mary responded generously to the intentions of the divine plan. Mary “by the grace bestowed upon her she merited that grade of purity and holiness, which fitted (congrue) her to be the Mother of God” (110).



The merit of Mary depended on her free will, sustained by the divine gift of grace. The importance of her “yes,” her free consent, is described in an impressive manner by St. Bernard:


The angel waits for the answer: it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too, O Lady, are waiting for the word of salvation, we who walk so miserably bent under the sentence of condemnation. Behold the price of our redemption is offered to you; if you agree, we shall be instantly set free. We were all made by the eternal Word of God, and behold, we are dying. By one single word from you we shall be revived and called back to life. Adam with all his grief, Adam with all his wretched offspring implores you to say that word, O gracious Virgin. Abraham, David and all the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors who dwell in the shadows of death, beg you to say that word. The whole world is waiting for it, prostrate at your feet. And they are right, since there depend on your lips the consolation of the wretched, the redemption of prisoners, the freedom of the condemned, and finally the salvation of all Adam’s children, of your whole race! Hasten, then! Give the answer that earth and the underworld and even the heavens are expecting from you (111).


The Divine Maternity Implies a Transforming Relation

The descent of the Holy Spirit on Mary in the narration of Luke, evokes the act of creation (Gen 1:2) and the presence of God in the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 40:34) (112). Through the Incarnation of the Son of God at the Annunciation, Mary arrives at “a higher grade of purity and assimilation to God, something like the last passage to the melting-pot of a metal already pure which finds now its grade of hardness and its splendor” (113).

The divine maternity, as a basic relation of Mary to Christ, can be compared with the character of a sacrament which is distinct from grace, but given in view of grace (114). The indelible sacramental character constitutes the consecration of the Christian to the Holy Trinity and a conformation with Christ. Similarly, the divine motherhood, prepared in the grace of the Immaculate Conception at the very beginning of Mary’s being, consecrates Our Lady to God because of her definite relation to her Son, who takes human nature from her through the power of the Holy Spirit. According to Scheeben, the grace of divine maternity is already present in Mary at the beginning of her life. The most renowned German theologian of the nineteenth century describes the maternal relation of the Holy Virgin to Christ with the expression “personal character,” identifying it also as spiritual marriage with the Word. This “personal character” implies, at the same time, her characteristics as mother and as companion or “bride” of Christ, who asked her consent before becoming her Son. Scheeben thus speaks of “bridal motherhood:”


Mary is as much anointed and made the Mother of God as the flesh taken from her is made the flesh of God, for the Logos is so taken up in her that she herself is taken up in him in an analogous way as the flesh taken from her. Consequently the relation of the Mother to her divine Son appears as a marriage with this divine Person. Here now the Bridegroom gives himself to the Bride as her Son and dwells in her in virtue of this gift (115).


The systematic reflection of Scheeben confirms the Catholic conviction that divine motherhood cannot be separated from Mary’s mediation, which is not restricted to the physical birth of Jesus. Her whole being is consecrated in its motherhood to Christ forever and this motherhood goes together with her cooperation in redemption. For this concept, we can cite a statement of Thomas Aquinas, finding its foundation in the Fathers and repeated in the teaching of the popes: the event of the Annunciation was suitable


to manifest that there is a kind of spiritual marriage between the Son of God and human nature. And hence through the Annunciation the consent of the Virgin was sought in the place of the whole human nature (116).


Christ also represents all of human nature, but he does so as a divine Person and as head of the Church. Mary represents the whole human race as a created person and in some way as “heart” of the mystical body of Christ. She does so as a woman in her specific “bridal” receptivity, which includes an active response to the initiative of God.


Through Her Vocation as Mother of God, Mary Takes an Active Part in the Work of Redemption

The Incarnation is not only a premise to the work of salvation, but already a basic part of it. For this reason, the consent of Mary has a saving quality made possible by the grace of Christ received after the Immaculate Conception. The cooperation of Mary is orientated towards the redemptive work of Christ, which begins immediately at the Incarnation, as we can conclude from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Christ said, as he came into the world: ‘O God, the blood of bulls and goats cannot satisfy you, so you have made ready this body of mine for me to lay as a sacrifice upon your altar’” (Heb 10:5). Whereas Christ is appearing as the “New Adam,” Mary is acting as the “New Eve,” who together will renew humanity fallen into sin (117).


The Divine Motherhood Constitutes the Beginning of Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood for the Church

The divine maternity is also related to the person of the Word incarnate as the head of the mystical body of the Church.


Through the grace of divine motherhood, Mary has become an excellent member of the ecclesiastical body of Christ, and so her motherhood refers not only to the historical Christ, but also to Christ as head of the Church, and as such to the Church itself, which takes her origin from the operation of Christ, as the new people of God, as temple of the Holy Spirit and body of Christ (118).


An important step for the development of the doctrine about the spiritual motherhood of Mary can be found in a famous text of St. Augustine, cited by the Second Vatican Council (119):


According to the body, Mary is Mother only of Christ. But insofar as she does the will of God, she is spiritually sister and mother. And thus this unique woman is mother and virgin, not only in spirit but bodily—mother in spirit, not of the Savior, our Head, of whom rather she is born spiritually, for all who believe in him—and she is one of them—are rightly called sons of the Spouse, but she is really (120) Mother of the members who we are, because she cooperated by charity so that there might be born in the Church believers, of whom he is the Head (121).


The cooperation of Mary in the spiritual birth of the members of the Church points to a universal dimension. The spiritual maternity, based on the Incarnation, is confirmed and fully constituted at the foot of the Cross, when Jesus Christ reveals Mary’s vocation to become the “mother” of St. John, type of every faithful disciple (122).

Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to Ephesus, underlined this relation between Mary’s divine maternity and her motherhood for the Church. Mary, “united to her Son in the offering of his sacrifice, extended her motherhood under the Cross to all men and women, and in particular to the disciples of Jesus” (123).



The Divine Motherhood Exalts Mary Over All Other Creatures


The New Testament already alludes to the highest dignity of Mary as Mother of the Lord. This is evident from the salutation by the angel (Lk 1:26: “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you” ), but also from the praise of Elizabeth (Lk 1:42: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” ) and from the Magnificat (Lk 1:48: “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” ).

In the third century it is not yet universally clear that Mary’s grace is superior to that of the apostles, as we can deduce from a reflection of Origen who interprets the “sword” in the prophecy of Simeon (Lk 2:35) as incredulity and doubt under the Cross. The Alexandrian theologian held this because he wanted to assert that Mary also needed to be redeemed. If even the apostles had some defects, Origen sought a sin also in the Mother of the Lord (124). In the fourth century, we find a continual maturation of the Church’s understanding of the dignity of the Mother of God, which leads to explicit testimonies about the superiority of Mary’s dignity over that of all other creatures. Through the Council of Ephesus, this conviction becomes universal. We find an echo of this faith in the Second Vatican Council: through the gift of divine maternity, Mary “far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth” (125).

The personal relationship to God that comes from divine maternity is the most perfect that can exist between a created person and the Creator. This relation is certainly less profound than the one between the humanity of Jesus Christ and the divine Word: It constitutes the subsistence of the human nature of our Lord in the divine person of the Son of God, according to the explanation of Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, Mary has born her own Creator in his humanity, thus receiving a kind of quasi-infinite dignity: “The Blessed Virgin from the fact that she is the Mother of God has a kind of infinite dignity from the infinite good which is God; and for this reason nothing can be better than her, such as nothing can be better than God” (126).

From the time of Suarez (sixteenth century), many theologians express the dignity of the Mother of God with the idea that Mary’s divine maternity contributes to the “hypostatic order,” that is she cannot be separated from the Word incarnate: “This dignity of the Mother belongs to a higher order and belongs in some way to the order of hypostatic union, because she has an intrinsic relation to it and a necessary bond” (127).



The Divine Maternity Constitutes a Special Relation with the Most Holy Trinity (128)


A theological work from the seventeenth century calls Mary “mirror and revelation of the Trinity,” when reflecting on the event of Annunciation: The Father sends the Son, whereas the Son is made flesh by the power and operation of the Holy Spirit (129). The Second Vatican Council delivers a precise summary of Mary’s relation to the Holy Trinity:


Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to him by a close and indissoluble tie, she is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit (130).


Mary was the “beloved” or “favorite” “daughter of the Father” (praedilecta filia Patris) and “temple of the Holy Spirit” even before becoming the Mother of God. Nevertheless, her relations with the Father and with the Holy Spirit have a strict link with divine maternity, which is the systematic starting point for describing its connection with the Most Holy Trinity.



The title “daughter” is the most frequent one used to describe Mary’s relation to God the Father. We find it prefigured in the Old Testament theme, “Daughter of Zion” (131): it seems that the Lucan infancy narrative alludes to it, especially in the salutation of the angel (chaire, “Rejoice” ), which prompts comparison with the explicit Daughter of Zion texts (132). Mary as “daughter” of the divine Father is similar to the adoptive sonship of all baptized Christians, who can pray “Abbà, Father” (cf. Gal 3:26; 4:4-7). The purpose of our life is to “receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:5). In this context, the Apostle Paul speaks of the divine maternity of Mary: “God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4).

Certainly Mary is also the “favorite” daughter of the Father. This exclusive relation is reflected by the Fathers of Church, who describe Christ as the common Son of God the Father and the Virgin Mary. This distinction was also formulated by the Council of Chalcedon: “Begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer, as regards his humanity” (133).

In the Ancient Church one also begins to see an awareness of a “bridal” relation of Mary to God the Father, such as in this passage from St. John of Damascus, cited in the Encyclical Munificentissimus Deus (1950), in which Pope Pius XII defined the bodily Assumption of Mary to heavenly glory: “It was fitting that the spouse whom the Father had taken to himself should live in the divine mansions” (134). The title becomes more current in the Middle Ages, for instance in Rupert of Deutz, and in the French school of spirituality, notably Bérulle and Olier (135). According to Olier, the Father chose Mary as his spouse in order that she would become, together with him, the principle of the temporal generation of the Word, his helper in the Incarnation. Nonetheless, the title “spouse of the Father” is not very common, because of the possible misunderstanding that it meant Mary had eternally generated the Son of God, in contradiction to the fact that her contribution stayed in the temporal realm.

The title “daughter” implies some similarity to the Father. For this reason we also find the comparison of divine maternity with the active generation of the Father. The eternal source of the Son from the Father is reflected in the temporal origin of the same Son from Mary as Mother. According to St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort,


God the Father communicated to Mary his own fecundity in the greatest measure possible for a creature in order to give her the power to generate his Son and all the members of his Mystical Body (136).


Contemplating the assimilation of divine maternity to the eternal paternity of God, we can better understand the virginity of Mary:


If one maintains that the divine motherhood is the most perfect possible created assimilation to the divine Paternity, it would seem to indicate that Mary’s divine motherhood is necessarily a virginal motherhood (137).


Mary, in some way, can be called the “female face” of the Father, revealing in particular his mercy and tenderness. This observation is very much emphasized by feminist theologians nowadays, but it should not be exaggerated. “It must be noted … that Mary does not directly represent the ‘maternity’ of God but is the Mother of God and thus embodies creaturely worth at its supreme level” (138).

The basic word to describe Mary’s relation with her Son is certainly the title “Mother.” Nevertheless, by the time of the Fathers, and still more in the Middle Ages, we already find the description of Mary as “spouse” of Christ. Among the bridal designations that are used for Mary, “Bride of Christ” becomes increasingly prominent, especially as Mary is recognized more clearly and distinctly as Christ’s helper in his redemptive work, as a mediatrix of grace (139). The title “Bride of Christ” becomes more important for the Church when it is seen as already present in Biblical sources (Eph 5:21-33 etc.) (140). This description was already prefigured in the Old Testament, which compared the Covenant between God and his people with the union between the husband and his wife in marriage. The Song of Songs, which sings of the love between man and woman, has been accepted in the canon of holy Scripture because of this profound religious significance. The commentaries on the Song of Songs, prepared by the Fathers and fully developed in the Middle Ages, present the “spouse” in various ways which cannot be separated from one another: the people of God (Israel, which becomes the Church in the New Covenant), the soul of every believer, and the Holy Virgin Mary. The Church, the human soul and Mary are invited to open themselves to the love of the divine “bridegroom.”

Nowadays the most frequent use of the title “spouse” does not makes reference to the relation of the Blessed Virgin to Christ, but to the Holy Spirit. The first clear testimony of this custom is St. Francis, who exalts Mary as “daughter and handmaid of the highest kind, the Father in heaven,” as “Mother of our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ” and “spouse of the Holy Spirit” (141).

This attribution is justified in so far as it accentuates Mary’s role as “cooperator” with the Third Person of the Trinity. Some of contemporary Mariology is more reticent to use the title, in order to avoid the misunderstanding that there was a common generational act between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin (142). In fact, the Holy Spirit is not called “bridegroom” of Mary. He is not the Father of Jesus (143), and his action in the Incarnation is compared in Luke with the first creation, not with generation. Probably for this reason, the Second Vatican Council did not use the title “spouse of the Holy Spirit,” but preferred the designation “temple” (144).

On the other hand, the description “temple of the Holy Spirit” does not describe the specific relation of Mary to the Holy Spirit, but only reflects that which is a characteristic of every Christian. The expression “spouse of the Holy Spirit” has the advantage of manifesting a specific trait of the Holy Virgin. As mentioned before, in the works of St. Francis, the title sponsa Spiritus Sancti is used exclusively for the Mother of God. (145) John Paul II presents this expression omitted by the Second Vatican Council with a new vigor, especially in his Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (146) and in his Marian catecheses. In one of the catecheses he writes:


And again: every Christian is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” … But this assertion takes on an extraordinary meaning in Mary: in her the relationship with the Holy Spirit is enriched with a spousal dimension. I recalled this in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater: “The Holy Spirit had already come down upon her, and she became his faithful spouse at the Annunciation, welcoming the Word of the true God.” (147)


Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (1974), has underlined the Trinitarian character of Marian devotion. Mary helps us to orient ourselves to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit (148). Pope John Paul II records that the Annunciation brings us a revelation of the Trinity in its relations to Mary (149). In the Blessed Virgin is thus realized the supreme vocation of the creature. All the members of the Church participate in this vocation, but Mary has a specific role. The title “Mother of God” can be attributed in its full sense only to her. For this reason the expressions “spouse of the Holy Spirit” and “favored daughter of the Father” are appropriate. “Here we see the authentic meaning of Mary’s privileges and of her extraordinary relationship with the Trinity: Their purpose is to enable her to co-operate in the salvation of the human race” (150).




(1) Lumen Gentium 53.

(2) Cf. Michael O’Carroll, Theotokos. A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Eugene, OR, 2000, 152-153; Leo Scheffczyk, Fundamentalprinzip, mariol., in Marienlexikon 2 (1989) 565-567; Stefano De Fiores, Maria Madre di Gesù, Bologna 1992, 189-197; J.L. Bastero de Eleizalde, María, Madre del Redentor, Pamplona 1995, 29-35; Anton Ziegenaus, Maria in der Heilsgeschichte. Mariologie (Katholische Dogmatik V), Aachen 1998, 28-43; Manfred Hauke, La questione del “Primo principio” e l’indole della cooperazione di Maria all’opera redentrice di Cristo: due temi rilevanti nella mariologia di Gabriele M. Roschini, in Marianum 64 (2002) 569-597.

(3) Eadmer, Liber de excellentia Virginis Mariae (PL 159, 557-580).

(4) John the Geometer, Hymni in SS. Deiparam (Analecta Byzantina, Poznan 1931); cf. L. Scheffczyk (note 2) 566.

(5) Lawrence of Brindisi, Mariale, Padova 1929, 479; cf. S. De Fiores (note 2) 189.

(6) M. O’Carroll (note 2) 334.

(7) Cf. Francis Suarez, Mysteria vitae Christi, Venice 1605, disp. I, p. 2; cf. S. De Fiores (note 2) 189.

(8) Jacques Bittremieux, De principio supremo Mariologiae, in Ephemerides Theologiae Lovanienses 8 (1931) 249-251; cf. M. Hauke, Primo principio (note 2) 572-575.

(9) Jacques Bittremieux, De Mediatione universali B.M. Virginis quoad gratias, Bruges 1926.

(10) Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, prologus.

(11) L. Scheffczyk (note 2) 567.

(12) Cf. A. Ziegenaus (note 2) 39.

(13) Cf. M.J. Scheeben, Mariology I-II, St. Louis – London 1946; Manfred Hauke, Die Mariologie Scheebens – ein zukunftsträchtiges Vermächtnis, in Idem – Michael Stickelbroeck (eds.), Donum veritatis, Regensburg 2005, 255-274 (261-263).

(14) Cf. A.M. Serra, Madre di Dio I. Fondamenti biblici, in Stefano De Fiores – Salvatore Meo (eds.), Nuovo dizionario di Mariologia, Cinisello Balsamo 1985, 806-812; Brunero Gherardini, La Madre. Maria in una sintesi storico-teologica, Frigento 1989, 63-69; Miguel Ponce Cuéllar, María. Madre del Redentor y Madre de la Iglesia, Barcelona, 2001, 299-300.

(15) For an exegetical analysis of this passage, see Albert Vanhoye, La Mère de Dieu selon Gal 4,4, in Marianum 40 (1978) 237-247; S.M. Manelli, All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed. Biblical Mariology, New Bedford, MA, 2005, 137-142.

(16) Cf. Georg Söll, Mariologie (Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte III/4), Freiburg i. Br. 1978, 11.

(17) Cf. E. de Roover, La maternité virginale de Marie dans l’interprétation de Gal 4,4, in Studiorum Paulinorum Congressus Internationalis Catholicus 1961 (Analecta Biblica 18), Roma 1963, 17-37; S.M. Manelli (note 15) 139-141.

(18) Cf. e.g. Martin Hengel, Der Sohn Gottes. Die Entstehung der Christologie und die jüdisch-hellenistische Religionsgeschichte, Tübingen 1975 (English translation The Son of God, London – Philadelphia, 1976).

(19) See also S.M. Manelli (note 15) 190-192.

(20) Cf. René Laurentin, The Truth of Christmas Beyond the Myths. The Gospels of the Infancy of Christ, Petersham, MA, 1986, 54-56, 154-159.

(21) S.M. Manelli (note 15) 241.

(22) Cf. A. Ziegenaus (note 2) 85-88.

(23) Cf. S.M. Manelli (note 15) 375-380.

(24) For a detailed treatment of the Fathers, see Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, San Francisco 1999. On divine maternity until the end of the fourth century, see also G. Söll (note 16) 48-49, 60-63; Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Gottesmutter, in Marienlexikon 2 (1989) 684-692 (686-688); Marek Starowieyski, Le titre Theotokos avant le concile d’Ephèse, in Studia Patristica XIX (1989) 237-242; M. Ponce Cuéllar (note 14) 300-307.

(25) Ignatius of Antioch, In Trall. 9:1-2 (SC 10bis, 100), translated in M. O’Carroll (note 2) 177.

(26) Ignatius of Antioch, In Eph. 7:2 (SC 10bis, 64), translated in M. O’Carroll (note 2) 177.

(27) Cf. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses I, 27 (SC 264, 348-354); Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem (SC 365, 368, 399); De carne Christi (SC 216-217).

(28) Cf. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III, 17,3; 22,1-2 (SC 211, 334-336. 430-436).

(29) Tertullian, De carne Christi XX, 1 (SC 216, 290).

(30) Cf. Adv. haer. III, 22, 1 (SC 211, 430-432).

(31) Adv. haer. III, 16, 2 (SC 211, 292-294).

(32) Adv. haer. IV, 33, 11 (SC 100, 830); cf. M. O’Carroll (note 2) 190.

(33) Cyril of Jerusalem, Cat. IV, 9 (PG 33, 465 B – 468 A). See also the title Theotókos in Cat. X, 19 (PG 33, 685 A).

(34) Cf. DS 10-30; 150.

(35) Tertullian, De carne Christi V,1 (SC 216, 226).

(36) This assertion is not proved because the term appears only in fourth-century Latin translations of Greek sources which have been lost. See G. Söll (note 16) 49. In any case, the Greek historian Socrates (d. after 439) mentions that Origen, in his Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, already used and explained the expression Theotókos: Historia Ecclesiae VII, 32 (PG 67, 812 B).

(37) Cf. Alois Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, London 1975, 138-149. The appearance of the title in the works of Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235) is a later interpolation: cf. G. Söll (note 16) 48; F. Baumeister, Hippolyt v. Rom, in Marienlexikon 3 (1991) 212f; M. O’Carroll (note 2) 172.

(38) Alexander of Alexandria, Ep. ad Alex. Const. 12 (PG 82, 908 A-B). For the appearance of the terms Theotókos and Mêter theou in the Ancient Christian sources see also G.W.H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Oxford 1987, 639. 868.

(39) Cf. M. O’Carroll (note 2) 342; Leo Scheffczyk, Theotokos, in Marienlexikon 6 (1994) 390-391.

(40) English translation in M. O’Carroll (note 2) 336; see also, together with the Greek text, Theodor Maas-Ewerd, Sub Tuum Praesidium, in Marienlexikon 6 (1994) 327-328.

(41) Epiphanius, Panarion 79 (GCS 37, 475-485); cf. G. L. Müller (note 24) (684).

(42) For a critical presentation of feminist Mariology, see Manfred Hauke, God or Goddess? Feminist Theology: What Is It? Where Does It Lead? San Francisco 1995, 180-204.

(43) Ambrose, De Spiritu Sancto III, 80 (PL 16, 795 A).

(44) See for instance Jean Daniélou, Le culte marial et le paganisme, in Hubert du Manoir (ed.), Maria I, Paris 1952, 159-181; G. Söll (note 16) 68-69; G. L. Müller (1989) (note 24) 690-692; S. De Fiores (note 2) 27-30.

(45) Cf. Tertullian, De spectaculis VIII, 5 (SC 332, 162).

(46) Hugo Rahner, Symbole der Kirche. Die Ekklesiologie der Väter, Salzburg 1964, 99.

(47) D.F. Wright, From “God-Bearer” to “Mother of God” in the Later Fathers, in R.N. Swanson (ed.), The Church and Mary (Studies in Church History 39), Woodbridge (U.K.) – Rochester, NY 2004, 22-30 (23).

(48) M. O’Carroll (note 2) 342.

(49) M. Hauke, God or Goddess? (note 42) 203f.

(50) For instance Athanasius, De incarnatione Dei Verbi 8 (PG 26, 696); In virginitatem 3 (PG 28, 256); Contra Arianos III, 29 (PG 26, 385); cf. G. Söll (note 16) 60.

(51) Cf. G.L. Müller (1989) (note 24) 684.

(52) Gregory of Nazianzus, Ep. 101,4 (PG 37, 177 A – 180 A).

(53) Cf. G. Söll (note 16) 88-89.

(54) Theodore of Mopsuestia, In Joh. (PG 66, 997 B-C).

(55) Prudentius, Psychomachia (PL 60, 52 A). Cf. A. Ziegenaus (note 2) 213.

(56) Ambrose, De virg. II, 2, 13 (PL 16, 210 C); cf. G. Söll (note 16) 88.

(57) Cf. G. Söll (note 16) 88-96; Salvatore Meo, Madre di Dio II. Dogma. Storia e teologia, in S. De Fiores – S. Meo (note 14) 812-825 (815-819); Basil Studer, Il concilio di Efeso (431) nella luce della dottrina Mariana di Cirillo di Alessandria, in Sergio Felici (ed.), La Mariologia nella catechesi dei Padri (età postnicena), Roma 1991, 49-67; Christiane Fraisse-Coué, Die theologische Diskussion zur Zeit Theodosius’ II.: Nestorius, in Luce Piétri etc. (eds.), Das Entstehen der einen Christenheit (250-430) (Die Geschichte des Christentums. Altertum II), Freiburg i. Br. 2005 (= 1996), 570-626 (originally in French: Histoire du christianisme des origines à nos jours II. Naissance d’une chrétienté (250-430), Paris 1995); M. Ponce Cuéllar (note 14) 307-313. The critical edition of the Acts: Eduard Schwarz (ed.), ACO (= Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum I/1,1-8), Berlin 1927-30; the essential parts are translated in French: A.J. Festugière (ed.), Ephèse et Calcédoine. Textes des conciles, Paris 1982.

(58) Anton Ziegenaus, Jesus Christus. Die Fülle des Heils. Christologie und Erlösungslehre (Katholische Dogmatik IV), Aachen 2000, 144. On the Christological doctrine of Nestorius, whom some theologians try to “purify” from heresy, see the balanced treatment, which justifies the condemnation, from Leo Scheffczyk, Nestorius, in Marienlexikon 4 (1992) 598f.

(59) N.P. Tanner (ed.), Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils I, London 1990, 42-44. See also the excerpt in DS 250f.

(60) DS 272 (our translation).

(61) DS 301.

(62) See DS 252-263.

(63) N.P. Tanner (note 54) I 59; cf. DS 252.

(64) DS 427 (our translation).

(65) DS 422 (our translation).

(66) Paul Haffner, The Mystery of Mary, Chicago 2004, 116, referring to the third letter of Cyril to his Alexandrian church (ACO I, 1, 2, 117-118).

(67) Cyril of Alexandria, Sermo 4 (PG 77, 992 B). According to some researchers, this homily was not given by Cyril, but by another bishop; their arguments are not substantiated, according to Hubert Du Manoir, Cyrill, in Marienlexikon 2 (1989) 114-119 (115). Its authenticity is maintained by CPG (= Maurits Geerard [ed.], Clavis Patrum Graecorum) III, Turnhout 1979, nr. 5243; M. O’Carroll (note 2) 113 (“fully restored to C. as its author” ), with reference to Roberto Caro Mendoza, La homiletica mariana griega en el siglo V, vol. II, Roma 1965, 269-278.

(68) Sermo 4 (PG 77, 992 B-C); cf. M. O’Carroll (note 2) 113.

(69) Sermo 4 (PG 77, 992 C).

(70) Cf. Alois Müller, Ecclesia-Maria. Die Einheit Marias und der Kirche, Fribourg 1955, 157.

(71) M. O’Carroll (note 2) 113.

(72) Cf. Carlo Pietrangeli, Santa Maria Maggiore a Roma, Firenze 1988.

(73) John Damascene, De fide orthodoxa III, 12 (PG 94, 1028 B-1029 A); English translation in P. Haffner (note 66) 117.

(74) For a global treatment, see Luigi Gambero, Mary in the Middle Ages: the Blessed Virgin Mary in the thought of medieval Latin theologians, San Francisco 2005.

(75) Thomas Aquinas, STh III q. 27-35.

(76) Cf. Richard Schenk, Thomas v. Aquin, in Marienlexikon 6 (1994) 399-405 (404).

(77) Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium Theologiae, cap. 222. The idea is developed already by Cyril of Alexandria in various texts, e.g. Ep. 4 ad Nestorium (PG 77, 480); cf. H. Du Manoir (note 67) 116.

(78) Cf. STh III q. 35 a. 4.

(79) Cf. STh III q. 35 a. 5; Quodlib. 9 a. 2 ad 1. See also Gregorio Alastruey, Tratado de la Virgen Santissima, Madrid, 1952, 99-101, and the defense of this doctrine against contemporary criticism in B. Gherardini (note 14) 84-89.

(80) Cf. M. O’Carroll (note 2) 258. 334f.

(81) See later in this chapter, “The Divine Maternity Implies a Transforming Relation.”

(82) AAS 23 (1931) 493-517.

(83) AAS 23 (1931) 504; English in P. Haffner (note 66) 120.

(84) Cf. AAS 23 (1931) 513.

(85) Lumen Gentium 63-64. Cf. S. Meo (note 57) 822-825.

(86) Cf. Danilo Sartor, Madre di Dio III. Celebrazione liturgica, in S. De Fiores – S. Meo (note 14) 825-828.

(87) Redemptoris Mater 4; English translation in P. Haffner (note 66) 121.

(88) Cf. Mulieris dignitatem 4. See also Arthur B. Calkins, Totus tuus. Il Magistero mariano di Giovanni Paolo II, Siena 2006, 88-94.

(89) Cf. P. Haffner (note 66) 121.

(90) Cf. General audience of April 13, 1988, Le definizioni cristologiche dei concili e la fede della Chiesa oggi, nr. 4, in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, vol. XI/1, Città del Vaticano 1989, 878f. The theological context is explained in M. Ponce Cuéllar (note 14) 316-318; J. L. Bastero de Eleizalde, Virgen singular. La reflexión teológica mariana en el siglo XX, Madrid 2001, 17-57.

(91) Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1994), 43; English translation in

(92) Cf. R. Roberson, Assira, Chiesa, d’Oriente, in E.G. Farrugia (ed.), Dizionario enciclopedico dell’Oriente cristiano, Roma 2000, 82f.

(93) Joint Christological Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, Rome, November 11, 1994, Nr. 1-4, cited here from a German translation in Una Sancta 50 (1995) 164-165; the English original is published in Sobornost 17 (1/1995) 52-54.

(94) Luther, Exposition on the Magnificat (1521) (WA 7, 546); English translation in P. Haffner (note 66) 122f.

(95) See Luther, Exposition on the Magnificat (1521) (WA 7, 573); Achim Dittrich, Protestantische Mariologiekritik. Historische Entwicklung bis 1997 und dogmatische Analyse (Mariologische Studien 11), Regensburg 1998, 29-37.

(96) Cf. C.J. Malloy, Engrafted into Christ. A Critique of the Joint Declaration, New York 2005.

(97) Karl Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatik I/2, Zürich, 1983, 1938; cf. A. Dittrich (note 95) 305f.

(98) Lutherisches Kirchenamt des VELKD (Vereinigte Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche Deutschlands), Maria – Evangelische Fragen und Gesichtspunkte. Eine Einladung zum Gespräch, in Una Sancta 37 (1982) 184-201 (189); cf. A. Dittrich (note 95) 306.

(99) David Gustafson, in: Dwight Longenecker – David Gustafson, Mary. A Catholic-Evangelical Debate, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2003, 37.

(100) Cf. D. Longenecker – D. Gustafson (note 99) 43. 189-207.

(101) Cf. Michael Kreuzer, “Und das Wort ist Fleisch geworden”. Zur Bedeutung des Menschseins Jesu bei Johannes Driedo und Martin Luther, Paderborn 1998.

(102) A. Dittrich (note 95) 305.

(103) ARCIC, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, nr. 34, cited in

(104) Such as Piet Schoonenberg: see Jean Galot, Maria. La donna nell’opera della salvezza, Roma 1991, 98; M. Ponce Cuéllar (note 14) 316-318; J.L. Bastero de Eleizalde (note 90) 17-57.

(105) Lumen Gentium 61.

(106) Augustine, Sermo 72/A, 7 (MA 1, 162; cf. PL 46, 935) (our translation).

(107) Augustine, De sancta virginitate (PL 40, 399) (English translation on

(108) René Laurentin, Breve trattato sulla Vergine Maria, Cinisello Balsamo 1990, 192 (English translation: A Short Treatise on the Virgin Mary, Washington, New Jersey 1991).

(109) Thomas Aquinas, III Sent. d. 4 a. 1 ad 5; cf. M. O’Carroll (note 2) 258.

(110) Thomas Aquinas, STh III q. 2 art. 11 ad 3. About the merit of Mary, see also M. O’Carroll (note 2) 246f.

(111) Bernard of Clairvaux, Super missus est 1,7 (PL 183, 59 D); English translation according to C.X.J.M. Friethoff, A Complete Mariology, London 1958, 23.

(112) Cf. Heinz Schürmann, Das Lukasevangelium I, Freiburg i. Br. 1969, 52f; S.M. Manelli, Biblical Mariology (note 15) 173.

(113) R. Laurentin, Breve trattato (note 108), 203, with reference to the Byzantine theologian Nicholas Cabasilas (fourteenth century). In this way the idea of purification (kátharsis) can be interpreted in various oriental authors: see op. cit., 225f; Manfred Hauke, Heilsverlust in Adam, Paderborn 1993, 560; Idem, Die Unbefleckte Empfängnis Mariens bei den griechischen Vätern. Die Hinweise Johannes Pauls II. im ökumenischen Dialog, in Sedes Sapientiae. Mariologisches Jahrbuch 8 (2/2004) 13-54 (52f).

(114) Cf. R. Laurentin, Breve trattato (note 108), 206.

(115) M.J. Scheeben, Mariology I, London – St. Louis 1946, 162f; cf. Manfred Hauke, Die Mariologie Scheebens – ein zukunftsträchtiges Vermächtnis, in Idem – Michael Stickelbroeck (eds.), Donum veritatis, Regensburg 2006, 255-274 (261f).

(116) Thomas Aquinas, STh III q. 30 a. 1. The text is cited especially by Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Octobri mense (1891) (DS 3274); Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici corporis (1943) (AAS 35 [1943] 247); John Paul II, Marian Catechesis 33 (18.9.1996), nr. 2, in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, vol. XIX/2, Città del Vaticano 1998, 373 (= CCC, nr. 511).

(117) Cf. Stefano M. Manelli, Maria Corredentrice nella Sacra Scrittura, in Autori vari, Maria Corredentrice. Storia e teologia I, Frigento 1998, 37-114 (73-82).

(118) G.M. Müller (note 24) 690.

(119) Lumen Gentium 53.

(120) Extended quote by St. Augustine added by author.

(121) Augustine, De sancta virginitate 6 (PL 40, 399); cf. M. O’Carroll (note 2) 254.

(122) The explication of spiritual motherhood comes forth more fully in the twelfth century. As to this topic, see the treatments of Mary’s mediation, for instance the introducing notes in M. O’Carroll (note 2) 238-245. 253-256.

(123) Homily from November 29, 2006.

(124) Cf. Origen, In Lucam hom. XVII, 6-7 (SC 87, 256-258).

(125) Lumen Gentium 53.

(126) Thomas Aquinas, STh I q. 25 a. 6 ad 4.

(127) Francis Suarez, De mysteriis vitae Christi, sect. 2,4 (Opera omnia 19, Paris 1856, 8). As to this topic, see also S.M. Ragazzini, La Divina Maternità di Maria nel suo concetto teologico integrale, Frigento 1986, 214-238. For a wider treatment of Mary’s dignity, see G. Alastruey (note 79) 102-138.

(128) For a more explicit treatment, see Manfred Hauke, Maria und die Trinität. Die trinitarischen Beziehungen Mariens als Urbild der Kirche auf dem Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzil, in Sedes Sapientiae. Mariologisches Jahrbuch 4 (2/2000) 78-114; Angelo Amato, Maria e la Trinità, Cinisello Balsamo 2000; Rosa Lombardi, Maria Icona della Trinità, Roma 2003.

(129) Cf. Josephus de la Cerda, Maria effigies revelatioque trinitatis, Almeria 1640.

(130) Lumen Gentium 53.

(131) Cf. Lumen Gentium 55.

(132) Cf. M. O’Carroll (note 2) 116f; S.M. Manelli, Biblical Mariology (note 15), 162.

(133) DS 301.

(134) John of Damascus, Hom. II in Dormit., 14 (PG 96, 741).

(135) Cf. M. O’Carroll (note 2) 333f; K. Wittkemper, Braut IV. Dogmatik, in Marienlexikon 1 (1988) 564-571 (568f).

(136) Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Traité de la vrai dévotion …, nr. 17.

(137) P. Haffner (note 66) 128.

(138) M. Hauke, God or Goddess? (note 42) 194. Cf. idem, Women in the Priesthood? San Francisco 1988, 309-312.

(139) Cf. K. Wittkemper (note 135) 564-568.

(140) Cf. M. Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? (note 138) 252-256.

(141) Antiphon Sancta Maria Virgo, verse 2. Cf. Johannes Schneider, Virgo Ecclesia facta, Assisi 2003, 223-272 (the first explicit use: 259). Earlier allusions are given in K. Wittkemper (note 135) 569.

(142) Cf. K. Wittkemper (note 135) 569f.

(143) Cf. 11th Synod of Toledo (DS 533).

(144) Cf. M. Hauke, Die trinitarischen Beziehungen Mariens (note 128) 87-90.

(145) Cf. L.M. Ago, La “Salutatio Beatae Mariae Virginis” di san Francesco di Assisi, Roma 1998, 228.

(146) Redemptoris Mater 9, 26.

(147) Marian Catechesis 11 (January 10, 1996), nr. 4, Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, vol. XIX/1, Città del Vaticano 1998, 48 (cf. Redemptoris Mater 26). The theological background in John Paul II (the influence of St. Grignion and St. Maximilian Kolbe, but also – for the Marian Catecheses – of Jean Galot) is evidenced by Arthur B. Calkins, Totus tuus (note 88) 282-286; Manfred Hauke, La mediazione materna di Maria secondo Papa Giovanni Paolo II, in AA. VV., Maria Corredentrice VII, Frigento 2005, 35-91 (47-49. 70f).

(148) Cf. Paul VI, Marialis cultus, nr. 25.

(149) Cf. John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem (1988), nr. 3.

(150) Marian Catechesis 11 (January 10, 1996), nr. 5, in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, vol. XIX/1, Città del Vaticano 1998, 48f.