In the year 431 A.D., the Council of Ephesus affirmed the title “theotokos“, that is, “The God-bearer”, to Blessed Mary. The Council of Ephesus was formed after the spreading of the Nestorian heresy, which taught that Mary was mother to only the “human” Jesus Christ. The Nestorians taught that only after Christ’s birth was His Divine nature united to His human nature, therefore making the claim that Mary could not be the mother of God.
The Council stated:
“Whoever does not confess that the Emmanuel is truly God, and therefore the Blessed Virgin truly the Mother of God, let him be anathema.”
I want to use this article to explain the reasoning behind the Council’s teaching, and why I believe that the teaching is correct, pertaining to Jesus’ divinity, and Mary’s divine maternity. Let’s hit up Christ’s divinity first.
By teaching that Jesus Christ at one time did not possess a divine nature, one teaches that Jesus Christ was not always God. The Nestorians taught as such; attempting to split the person of Christ apart. Jesus Christ was eternally the Son of God, which means that he always possessed a Divine nature. This nature did not disappear when he became man in the womb of Blessed Mary.
Father Mateo, in his book Refuting the Attack on Mary, concurs:
“Before His Incarnation and from eternity, the Word is God and pure Spirit, as are the Father and the Holy Spirit. But in his Mother’s womb he took human nature and the God-man, Jesus Christ. The titles ‘Mother of Jesus’, ‘Mother of the Lord’, and ‘Mother of Christ’ can be correctly and devoutly used. But the history of doctrine shows that each of them has been misunderstood by some to suggest that Jesus was in some way less than God. Only ‘Mother of God’ leaves the hearer in no doubt about Christian belief in his full divinity.” (1)
Unlike what the Nestorians claimed (and some perhaps may still claim) Jesus Christ is only one Person. He is not two persons, divine and human. However, Jesus Christ has two natures: the nature of God, and the nature of man.
Gerard M. Gaskin, in his article Jesus Christ, the Person, explains:
“The Church teaches that Jesus Christ is one person having two natures. This, itself, is contrary to our human experience. We see everything around us as having a nature, but only one nature: the tree has the nature of a tree, the man has the nature of a human being, a rock has the nature of a rock. The nature of a thing indicates the kind of thing it is. Logically, every created thing has one nature, its own particular nature. No created thing has two natures or it would be two things at one time, which is impossible.
“Accordingly, the tree does not have the nature of a man, nor the man a rock’s. Nevertheless, we are taught by the Church that Jesus has two distinct natures in one person. We are taught that Jesus Christ has a Divine nature, as God; and a human nature as man. Just as the tree is not a rock, so the natures of man and God are distinct, not blurred together. Yet the Church teaches that in one person, in all time, since His conception in the womb of a human mother, these natures are united by being in the person of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus possesses fully the nature of God and the nature of man we can describe Him as true God and true man.” (2)
Jesus Christ, as God the Son, always possessed His divine nature. But He took on His human nature when he was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. After Christ stepped into time as man, His two natures became inseparable; this being defined by the term: hypostatic union.
This, in a nut shell, is the meaning of the person and nature of Christ. This article cannot give an in-depth study of the person and natures of Christ, as it is a complex mystery, but is summarizes the Catholic belief.
In connection to the person and natures of Christ is the motherhood of Mary. The nature of Mary’s motherhood was under attack centuries ago by the Nestorians, and it is again under attack by Protestants of today. Some argue that while Mary is Christ’s mother, she is not the Mother of God, and this title should not be applied to her. How is this possible?
Blessed Mary gave birth to the Savior of the universe, Jesus Christ, God the Son. How is it incorrect to say that Mary is the Mother of God? Jesus is God, is He not? Now, it should be noted that the phrase “Mother of God” pertains to God the Son, not the entire Trinity. This phrase does not mean that Mary is “older” than God, but it means that she is the mother of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. When explained, the title makes sense.
In Luke 1:43, Elizabeth greets Mary and wonders how it is that the “mother of my Lord cometh to me?” What does the word “Lord” mean? God, of course. Elizabeth asks how the mother of her God came to visit her. The phrase “Mother of God” is even used in Scripture! How can this title be denied? Mary did not say to Elizabeth, “No, I am only the Mother of Christ’s human nature”, did she?
It is laughable to say that Mary is merely the mother of only the “human” nature of Christ, as Christ’s natures cannot be separated, as He is one person. Is my mother the mother of only my human nature? No, she is the mother of myself, my person. A person is conceived and born, not a nature.
Even the Protestant Revolutionist Martin Luther affirms the title:
“She is rightly called not only the mother of man, but also the Mother of God…It is certain that Mary is the Mother of the real and true God.” (3)
The Protestants of today have an extremely different view of Blessed Mary than what the major Reformers thought of her. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli held many Catholic views of Mary even after they left the Catholic Church. This just goes to show you that even what was started by the Reformers has been reformed again over time.
I pray that all non-Catholics recognize the reality of Christ’s divinity, and Mary’s Divine maternity, as the Mother of God.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
(1) Fr. Mateo, Refuting the Attack on Mary, Catholic Answers, Inc.: El Cajon, CA, 1993, p. 4.
(3) Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works, English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St. Louis], volume 24, 107.