Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
Fr. George Pulikkottil D. Th.
Some people do not like to refer to Mary as the Mother of God. They believe it elevates Mary too much. They say Mary is only the Mother of Jesus. The Bible never calls Mary the Mother of God for a very simple reason: God has no mother. As someone has rightly said, just as Christ’s human nature had no father, so His divine nature had no mother. However nice this may sound, it is nonsense. By calling Mary the Mother of God, we make it clear that Jesus is fully divine, and so this actually elevates Jesus rather than Mary. The fact alone that God has chosen a woman to bear his only son, who is divine, already elevates Mary to a status that no human being could transgress by venerating her. After all, Jesus drew his humanity from Mary. Christ was a real son of Mary; he was her child! Jesus Christ is God. Women who bear people are called mothers. If the person a woman bears is God, then, consequently, the woman is the Mother of God. It’s that simple. The one born of Mary “shall be called the son of God” (Lk.1:35), and “God sent his son, made of a woman” (Gal 4:4).
Now, there is another argument that the titles "God-bearer" (theotokos) and "Mother of God" (meter theou) are not the same and imply something different. Let us see what the early Church says on this:
Council of Ephesus (431) "We confess, then, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and a body, begotten before all ages from the Father in his Godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, one and the same consubstantial with the Father in Godhead and consubstantial with us in humanity, for a union of two natures took place. Therefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the unconfused union, we confess the holy Virgin to be the Mother of God because God the Word took flesh and became man and from his very conception united to himself the temple he took from her" (Formula of Union [A.D. 431]).
Council of Chalcedon (451) "We all teach that with one accord we confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ... indeed born of the Father before the ages according to divine nature, but in the last days the same born of the virgin Mary, Mother of God according to human nature...."
Second Council of Constantinople(553) Canon 6: "If anyone says that the holy glorious ever-virgin Mary is falsely but not truly the Mother of God...let such a one be anathema"
All these above mentioned canons say it very clearly that Mary should known and be called as Mother of God (Meter Theou). In addition with that the Church Fathers witness their lively recognition of the sacred truth and great gift of divine maternity that was bestowed upon Mary. Let me include few of them; however they use both expressions, namely Theotokos and Meter Theou, but all in one meaning that the Virgin Mary gave birth to God.
Irenaeus: "The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God" (Against Heresies, 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).
Gregory the Wonderworker: "For Luke, in the inspired Gospel narratives, delivers a testimony not to Joseph only, but also to Mary, the Mother of God, and gives this account with reference to the very family and house of David" (Four Homilies 1 [A.D. 262])."It is our duty to present to God, like sacrifices, all the festivals and hymnal celebrations; and first of all, [the feast of] the Annunciation to the holy Mother of God, to wit, the salutation made to her by the angel, ‘Hail, full of grace!’"(ibid: 2).
Peter of Alexandria: "They came to the church of the most blessed Mother of God, and ever-virgin Mary, which, as we began to say, he had constructed in the western quarter, in a suburb, for a cemetery of the martyrs" (The Genuine Acts of Peter of Alexandria [A.D. 305]). "We acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the firstling; he bore a body not in appearance but in truth derived from Mary the Mother of God" (Letter to All Non-Egyptian Bishops 12 [A.D. 324]).
Methodius: "While the old man [Simeon] was thus exultant, and rejoicing with exceeding great and holy joy, that which had before been spoken of in a figure by the prophet Isaiah, the holy Mother of God now manifestly fulfilled" (Oration on Simeon and Anna 7 [A.D. 305]).
Cyril of Jerusalem: "The Father bears witness from heaven to his Son. The Holy Spirit bears witness, coming down bodily in the form of a dove. The archangel Gabriel bears witness, bringing the good tidings to Mary. The Virgin Mother of God bears witness" (Catechetical Lectures 10:19 [A.D. 350]).
Athanasius: "The Word begotten of the Father from on high, inexpressibly, inexplicably, incomprehensibly, and eternally, is he that is born in time here below of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God" (The Incarnation of the Word of God 8 [A.D. 365]).
Ambrose of Milan: "The first thing which kindles ardor in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose?" (The Virgins 2:2 [A.D. 377]).
Gregory of Nazianz: "If anyone does not agree that holy Mary is Mother of God, he is at odds with the Godhead" (Letter to Cledonius the Priest 101 [A.D. 382]).
Theodore of Mopsuestia: "When, therefore, they ask, ‘Is Mary mother of man or Mother of God?’ we answer, ‘Both!’ (The Incarnation 15 [A.D. 405]).
Cyril of Alexandria: "I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?" (Letter to the Monks of Egypt 1 [A.D. 427])."This expression, however, ‘the Word was made flesh’ [John 1:14], can mean nothing else but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; he made our body his own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off his existence as God, or his generation of God the Father, but even in taking to himself flesh remaining what he was. This was the sentiment of the holy Fathers; therefore they ventured to call the holy Virgin ‘the Mother of God,’ not as if the nature of the Word or his divinity had its beginning from the holy Virgin, but because of her was born that holy body with a rational soul, to which the Word, being personally united, is said to be born according to the flesh" (First Letter to Nestorius [A.D. 430])."And since the holy Virgin corporeally brought forth God made one with flesh according to nature, for this reason we also call her Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh" (Third Letter to Nestorius [A.D. 430]).So let us also join to say the fact with our Fathers: "If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the holy Virgin is the Mother of God, inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [John 1:14]: let him/she be anathema." (canon1, council of Ephesus)