MOTHER OF GOD
The doctrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary reveals the role of the Mother of Jesus in relation to Christ and his Church. Authentic doctrine regarding Mary is, in fact, a revelation of the person of Mary herself. That is why by truly understanding what Mary’s role is in God’s work of Redemption, we can know better who Mary is. Authentic love of Mary must be based on the truth about Mary.
Mother of God
The first and foremost revealed truth about Mary from which all her other roles and all her other honors flow is that she is the Mother of God. This dogma proclaims that the Virgin Mary is true Mother of Jesus Christ who is God the Son made man. The dogma of Mary’s Divine Motherhood, as it is commonly referred to, is explicitly revealed in Sacred Scripture. At the Annunciation the Angel Gabriel declares to Mary: “Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus… therefore, the holy one who shall be born of you shall be called Son of God” (Lk 1:31, 35).
The angelic message which originates from God Himself attests that Mary is true Mother of Jesus and secondly, that Jesus is true Son of God. From these words of the angel, we can derive the following simple theological syllogism: Mary is Mother of Jesus; Jesus is God; therefore, Mary is Mother of God. Since Jesus is truly God the Son, and Mary is repeatedly referred to in Scripture as the “Mother of Jesus” (cf. Mt 2:13, 2:20; Jn 2:1,3; Acts 1:14, etc.), then Mary must be true Mother of God made man.
In Tradition, we first find the revealed truth of Mary’s Divine Motherhood in the Apostles’ Creed. This great formula of the essential doctrinal beliefs of the early Church professes faith in “Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”
From the teaching authority of the Church, we have the great Marian event of the third ecumenical council of the Church, the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Ecumenical councils are those general assemblies of bishops who, with the authority and confirmation of the pope, and guided by the Holy Spirit, teach and define doctrine as found in Divine Revelation that is binding on the universal Church (hence, the name ecumenical or general council).
Nestorius refused to call Mary “Mother of God” not primarily because of a mariological error, but because of a christological error (an error concerning the true doctrine of Jesus).
Nestorius erroneously divided the one person of Jesus Christ into two separate persons, and thus Mary would be Mother only of the “human person of Jesus,” and not the Mother of God. The Ephesus definition of the Blessed Virgin as the Theotokos is actually a protection of the revealed truth about Jesus: that Jesus is one divine person with two natures, a divine nature and a human nature, and that the two natures are inseparably united in the one, and only one, divine person of Jesus. We see then at Ephesus a case in point of the truth that authentic Marian doctrine will always protect and safeguard authentic doctrine about Jesus Christ. Several times in the early Church, when there was a statement about Our Lord Jesus which lacked clarity concerning its ramifications, it was applied to the Mother of Jesus, whereby it became clear that the christological statement was incompatible with authentic Catholic doctrine. It is in this way that Marian doctrine safeguards the true doctrine about Jesus Christ.
The ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 declared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the Mother of God or Theotokos, literally the “God-bearer.” The Council approved the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria who, against the errors of Nestorius, declared:
If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel (Christ) in truth is God and that on this account the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos) in as much as she gave birth to the Word of God made flesh…let him be anathema.
To have an accurate understanding of Mary as Mother of God we must first have a clear understanding of the nature of motherhood itself. How do we define motherhood?
Motherhood is the act of a woman giving to her offspring the same type of nature that she herself has. This gift of nature is given through the process of conception, growth or gestation, and birth. The fruit of this process, which we may call maternal generation, is the whole child, the son or daughter, and not only the physical body.
For example, we rightly say that St. Elizabeth is the “mother” of St. John the Baptist, that is, mother of the complete person, not just of St. John’s body. This is a true statement even though we know that Elizabeth did not give John his soul which is created and infused directly by God. Motherhood then refers to the gift of like nature, with the fruit of motherhood always including the entire person.
It is in this same accurate sense that Mary is rightly called the “Mother of God.” What precisely does Mary give Jesus in the act of motherhood? First of all, let us establish what she did not give Jesus. Mary did not give Jesus his divine nature, nor did Mary give Jesus his divine personhood. Both of these aspects of Our Lord, in his divinity, existed from all eternity. But, “when in the fullness of time, God sent his son born of a woman” (Gal 4:4), Mary gave Jesus a human nature identical to her own, in the same way that each of our human mothers gave each of us a human nature. Since the human nature of Jesus is inseparably united to his divine nature in the one person of Christ, we correctly say that Mary gave birth to a Son who is truly God and, through Mary, truly man. In short, Mary gave flesh to the Word made flesh and is rightfully proclaimed “Mother of God.”
It is for this reason that Jesus is called both “Son of God” and “Son of Mary.” Jesus is Son of the Father, since his divine nature was generated (not made) by the Father from all eternity. Jesus is Son of Mary since his human nature was given to him by Mary, his earthly Mother.
The truth of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s divine Motherhood and its corresponding dignity are found in these words of the Second Vatican Council:
She is endowed with the high office and dignity of the Mother of the Son of God, and therefore 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.
Hail, O Mary, Mother of God, Virgin and Mother! Morning Star, perfect vessel. We salute thee, Mother of God. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! holy temple in which God Himself was conceived. We salute thee, Mother of God. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! chaste and pure dove. We salute thee, Mother of God. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! ever-effulgent light; from thee proceedeth the Sun of Justice. We salute thee, Mother of God. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God ! Thou didst enclose in thy sacred womb the One Who cannot be encompassed. We salute thee, Mother of God. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! With the shepherds we sing the praise of God, and with the angels the song of thanksgiving: Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will. We salute thee, Mother of God. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Through thee came to us the Conqueror and the triumphant Vanquisher of hell. We salute thee, Mother of God. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Through thee blossoms the splendor of the resurrection. We salute thee, Mother of God. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Thou hast saved every faithful Christian. Hail, O Mary, Mother of God! Who can praise thee worthily, O glorious Virgin Mary! We salute thee, Mother of God.
-Excerpt from a homily of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, preached at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.