Does Calling Mary “Mother of God” Tells Us Who Christ Is?

I was raised a bad/good Protestant and taught to hate/fear Catholicism and all things Roman. Indeed, the idea of ‘mother of God’ was such a pagan influence, that all Catholics were merely nice dressed Zeus worshipers; however, ‘mother of God’ is not nearly as heinous as I – and I assume, others – have been taught.

From here:

One day in the early fifth century, a priest preached a stirring sermon in the presence of the patriarch of Constantinople. His subject was the holy mother of Jesus. The preacher continually referred to Mary as the “Theotokos” meaning “God-bearer” or mother of God. This was no innovation — Christians had invoked Mary under this title for at least two hundred years. Nevertheless, at the close of the sermon, the patriarch ascended the steps of the pulpit to correct the preacher. We should call Mary the Mother of Christ, said Patriarch Nestorius, not the Mother of God. She was the mother of his human nature, not the mother of his divinity.

The controversy is between Θεοτόκος and Christotokos. First, we should note that the proper translation is not necessarily ‘Mother of God’. Mother in Greek is μητέρα. Theotokos is literally ‘God-bearer’ or ‘who one gives birth to God.’ Not the exact same thing as ‘mother of God.’ (I would prefer, if I had to use, ‘God-bearer’.)

One of the first notion of this title used for Mary is found in Alexander, Bishop of Alexander, to Alexander, Bishop of Constantiople.

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 in appearance merely, carried a body, of Mary Mother of God, who in the end of the world came to the human race to put away sin, was crucified and died, and yet did He not thus perceive any detriment to His divinity, being raised from the dead, taken up into heaven, seated at the right hand of majesty.

Why was it necessary to use it then? (Origen supposedly used it, but a much later author attributed it to him based on a text which may not be genuine.) Because, Arius was standing against those who believed that Christ was fully God – not a god, or a second God, or even another God. Further, this secured against the idea that Christ was born a mere man and then adopted into the Godhead, which a variety that heresy worked in and out of the Church. Alexander was using it to secure in the minds of his readers not a (more) special position for Mary but to secure the orthodox position that Mary had gave birth to God in the flesh. He was God before the flesh and God after the flesh, but He never the less was God.

It was only later that it became a major point of adoration for Mary.

I believe that it would be okay to call Mary Θεοτόκος as we declare to the world in that instance that she gave birth not to a mere man, but to God.

Check out Brian LePort‘s post as well.

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29 Replies to “Does Calling Mary “Mother of God” Tells Us Who Christ Is?”

  1. The problem is, people are taught to pray to Mary, the mother of GOD, and she will intercede with Christ. What son doesn’t want to do what his mother asks?….

    Personally, while I understand the designation, I do not agree with it for the average non-theologian. She was the mother of someone who had both a divine nature and a human nature. Mary is NOT the mother of GOD, as that would require she be present when God was created – but GOD was NOT created. Mary was one who carried and gave birth to the human incarnation of God the Son. Christ was 100% God and 100% man simultaneously – something most people find difficult to understand let alone explain. While the concept of “Mary the mother of God” might not purposefully include the eternality of Mary nor the intercession of Mary for believers with God, those concepts are inherent in its usage – particularly among non-theologians. I think its better to teach Mary carried the Christ, who had both natures: divine and human.

    1. Wb, I tried to make the point that long before the theology which presently surrounds the title, the title existed and when it did, it did so only to express that Christ was God.

      Also, I note that I tried to make the point that ‘mother of God’ is not a good translation, but should rather be ‘God-bearer’ or better yet, left untranslated. I do think that the title is important in the Arian discussions as it signified that Mary didn’t carry a mere man, but God in the flesh.

      1. I sometimes wonder about Jesus’s genes. How does a deity pick which genes to carry? Did he pick genes that would make him blend in with the Jews?

      2. Joel, you successfully made the point. I was aware of it. But I still think its a dangerous moniker, because of the ideas inherent in such a title. But there are many who believe it is good to use the title, even with the issues (which some people dont think are really issues)….

        1. Well, now I agree with you on that. When theological discussion, I would use the title untranslated, otherwise, simply God-bearer

  2. I believe that it would be okay to call Mary Θεοτόκος

    I’m sure that Catholic and Orthodox Christianity will be greatly relieved to receive your grudging acceptance of the majority Christian practice of the last 1600 years. 😉

  3. Would you suggest a re-write of the second half of the Hail Mary?

    Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

    and a re-write of the Hail, holy Queen?

    Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
    To thee do we cry, poor banished, children of Eve, to thee do we send
    up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley, of tears.
    Turn, then, most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us; and
    after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus;
    O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God
    That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

  4. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying and writing on this subject in general and on Marian apparitions and Mary in particular, although I doubt my views will receive a warm welcome from your many readers, Joel. Accordingly, I shall keep this brief.

    Joseph Campbell wrote that the only religion to keep the “goddess tradition” alive is Catholicism, albeit marginally. Perhaps that’s one reason Protestants are taught to “hate and fear all things Roman,” as you so noted. It’s instructive to reflect upon the reasons mainstream Christianity, including, for that matter, most Catholics (I am none of the above), abhors the notion of a Divine Feminine, or Shekinah. Mystical traditions are less threatened by it.

    On the other hand, Mary’s fun fodder for religious bigotry, which seems appealing to many theists especially those literalists who flaunt their certitude.

    1. Toney, whether people like it or not, I try to make a forum for the presentation of both sides. Or all sides, whatever the case my be. I have good readers, so have a little faith 🙂

      While I may or may not hold to a view of the Divine Feminine, I am not sure I could subscribe such things to Mary, although certainly, she was attracted that type of devotion, by some.

      1. Considered within the confining boundary of linear time, I’m not sure I would ascribe that cosmic title to her either. As the most recent incarnation of the Great Mother archetype, however, she’s a fairly good fit.

        Personally, I don’t believe in beginning/end time scenarios.

        Enjoy your blog a great deal.

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