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MOTHER OF GOD


Definition

"The Holy Virgin is the Mother of God since according to the flesh she brought forth the Word of God made flesh" (Council of Ephesus, 431 AD)

How This Teaching Exalts Christ

This Marian title affirms the fact that Jesus is truly God.  Early Christians applied this title to Mary in order to safeguard belief in Jesus' Deity.

Biblical Basis

The Bible says that Mary is the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14) and that Jesus is God (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1; John 20:28).  So Mary is truly the Mother of God the Son according to the flesh.

In Luke 1:43 the Holy Spirit inspires St. Elizabeth, Mary's relative, to say of her "and whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord (meter tou kuriou mou) should come to me?"  Since the New Testament uses the title Lord (Kurios) to ascribe deity to Jesus, the biblical Marian title "Mother of my Lord" is equivalent to "Mother of God".  Jesus is not a mere human lord, but the LORD GOD; and Mary is His Mother.

Early Christian Witness

This title was used so commonly in the early Church that it would be hard to quote every text where it was used.  Here are some from the first four centuries:

"The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God" (Irenaeus of Lyons Against Heresies, 5:19:1; 189 AD).

"To all generations (the prophets) have pictured forth the grandest subjects for contemplation and for action.  Thus, too, they preached of the advent of God in the flesh to the world, His advent by the spotless and God-bearing Mary in the way of birth and growth, and the manner of His life and conversation with men, and His manifestation by baptism, and the new birth that was to be to all men, and the regeneration by the laver [of baptism]" (Hippolytus Discourse on the End of the World 1; 217 AD).

"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" (Gregory the Wonderworker Four Homilies 1; 262 AD).

"(Those engaged in the public transport service) 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" (Peter of Alexandria The Genuine Acts of Peter of Alexandria; 305 AD).

"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" (Methodius Oration on Simeon and Anna 7; 305 AD).

"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" (Alexander of Alexandria Letter to All Non-Egyptian Bishops 12; 324 AD).

"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" (Cyril of Jerusalem Catechetical Lectures 10:19; 350 AD).

"Though still a virgin she carried a child in her womb, and the handmaid and work of his wisdom became the Mother of God" (Ephraim the Syrian Songs of Praise 1:20; 351 AD).

"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" (Athanasius The Incarnation of the Word of God 8; 365 AD).

"Being perfect at the side of the Father and incarnate among us, not in appearance but in truth, he [the Son] reshaped man to perfection in himself from Mary the Mother of God through the Holy Spirit" (Epiphanius of Salamis The Man Well-Anchored 75; 374 AD).

"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?" (Ambrose of Milan The Virgins 2:2[7]; 377 AD).

This Virgin became a Mother while preserving her virginity;
And though still a Virgin she carried a Child in her womb;
And the handmaid and work of His Wisdom
became the Mother of God
(St Ephraim, Songs of Praise, 1, 20; c. 381 AD)

"If anyone does not agree that Holy Mary is Mother of God, he is at odds with the Godhead" (Gregory of Nazianz Letter to Cledonius the Priest 101; 382 AD).

Objections
  1. How could God have a mother?

    God has no mother in eternity, but when God the Son became human, He was born of the Virgin Mary (Matthew 1:16). So she is His mother in His Incarnation.

  2. But she is only mother of His human nature, not His Deity.

    A "nature" does not have a mother, a person has a mother.  Motherhood is a person-to-person relationship with the child, not the mere act of conceiving offspring.  Since Mary had a mother-Son relationship with with the Second Person of the Trinity, she is truly the Mother of God.

  3. But she did not give Jesus His Deity.

    True, but no mother ever contributes everything to a child.  Most mothers contribute half of the child's physical composition while the father contributes the other half, and God creates the spirit.  Yet we never say of the woman who gave birth to us "She is not my mother, she is only the mother of the chromasomes she gave me". We still say of her "She is my mother", that is, the mother of my person.  Since Jesus is not a human person, but the Second Person of the Trinity, Mary is the mother of a Divine Person, of God-made-flesh.  Thus she is the Mother of God.

  4. But Mary didn't give Jesus His humanity either; God created a new humanity for Him in heaven.  Mary just bore and gave birth to it.

    Yes, some people do believe this!  It is called the "celestial flesh" teaching, and was taught by, among others, Menno Simmons, the founder of the Mennonites (though I think the Mennonites have since repudiated this heresy).  Some people today believe in it as well; I hope it is not a widespread belief, but since the idea is out there it must be answered.

    This would have to be the ultimate attempt to downplay the Mother of Jesus; reducing her to a mere incubator for a Sacred Humanity newly created by God!  The "celestial flesh" teaching is actually a revival of the heretical Christology of Valentinus, a second-century Gnostic who taught that Jesus' body was made in heaven and that He passed through Mary "as water through a pipe", taking nothing from her.

    The early Church had a saying:  "That which Christ has not assumed He has not healed".  Our Lord became incarnate so that He could assume our common humanity in order to redeem it (see Hebrews 2:14).  If He instead assumed some other, separate humanity, then He never truly became a member of the human race and so could not have redeemed the human race!

    Proponents of the "celestial flesh" heresy cite I Corinthians 15:47 to support their belief:  "The first man is of the earth, earthly; the second man is the Lord from heaven".  Yet this passage clearly refers to Jesus' Eternal, Divine origin as opposed to Adam's created, earthly origin; not to the origin of the Sacred Humanity.

    If it referred to His human nature, it would contradict Hebrews 2:14, which states that Jesus partook of the same flesh and blood which we share.  It would also mean that Jesus is not an Israelite (contradicting Romans 9:5); that He is not of the seed of David according to the flesh (contradicting Romans 1:3), nor the seed of Abraham (contradicting Gn 22:18); nor even the seed of a woman (contradicting Gn 3:15)!

    Finally, it would contradict Galatians 4:4, which tells us that "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law".  The term "made" here is ginomai, which means "to become, be made of or formed (from geino, "to form")".  Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus' Sacred Body was actually formed from the very substance of Mary, so she is truly His Mother.  Anyone who says otherwise is teaching a contra-biblical doctrine of men!

  5. Okay, so maybe Jesus received half of His flesh from Mary, but He couldn't have received it all from her otherwise He would be a woman, according to the laws of genetics.  So He must have received part of His chromasomes from elsewhere.

    From whom would He have derived the rest of His Humanity, considering that Mary was His only human parent?  As we saw above, the Bible calls Jesus the "Seed of the woman", and says He was "made of a woman"; it mentions no one else as a direct contributor to His Sacred Humanity.  It seems you are not sticking to the Bible alone here, but inventing an extrabiblical doctrine in an attempt to downplay Mary.

    As for Jesus' maleness:  the only genetic difference between a man and a woman is the presence of the Y chromasome in the male.  That amazing little chromasome is responsible for all the primary and secondary sex characteristics of males, everything that sets men apart from women:  coarse hair, larger muscles, squared jaw, etc.  If that single chromasome weren't present the person would be biologically female (what a thought!).

    Sacred Scripture doesn't tell us exactly how Jesus ended up with a Y chromasome.  This isn't surprising; the Bible is not a genetics textbook, nor does it reveal any of the biological details of Christ's miraculous virginal conception.  But surely the omnipotent Creator, who designed human genetics in the first place, could have miraculously altered one X chromasome in Mary's ovum, transforming it into a Y chromasome. As Holy Gabriel the Archangel told Our Lady at the Annunciation, "For with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37).  If the Almighty can cause a virgin to conceive, He can also make her Offspring biologically male!

    (One might as well ask, "How could God create Eve from Adam's flesh without her being biologically male like him?"  This is God we're talking about; surely our Maker can alter human genetics perfectly!)

    I'm sure Jesus did resemble His human Mother, yet that single Y chromasome would have altered His appearance significantly, making Him look unmistakably masculine (effeminate drawings of Christ are inaccurate!).

  6. Jesus could not have received His whole body from Mary, for He would then be a clone of Mary, which He is not.

    Was Eve a clone of Adam?  She was made out of the man, she received all her flesh from him (Genesis 2:21-23), but I'd hardly call her his "clone" since God clearly altered her genetic makeup.  Same thing with Jesus; if just one of His chromasomes were altered, He would not be an exact "clone" of Mary, even though He was made of a woman (Galatians 4:4), having received all His flesh from her.

    Many people are unaware of the fact that parthenogenesis (reproduction without male seed) occurs naturally in certain insect and animal species; some examples are the whiptail lizard, the Brahminy blind snake, and even turkeys!  Under natural circumstances certain female animals can reproduce perfect diploid offspring, fully capable of reproducing themselves (I won't get into the details of how this occurs, but it is quite fascinating to study!).

    Also, the process of parthenogenesis sometimes allows for genetic variation among the offspring.  For instance, parthenogenic lizards tend to produce male offspring, since there are certain differences between lizard and human genetics.  So although they come from only one parent, the offspring need not be exact genetic copies of the mother.

    Now, I am not saying that Mary conceived Our Lord the same way these creatures produce offspring; again, we don't know the biological details of Christ's conception.  I'm simply pointing out that "virgin births" are not entirely unheard of in nature, and that the offspring of such births are not necessarily "clones" of the mother.  Even so, though Jesus received all His flesh from Mary, He is not her "clone", but her Son - the Seed of the Woman foretold in Genesis 3:15.

  7. Jesus is God; He has always been and will always be (Rev 1:8).  A "mother", in the true sense of the word, is a human being who has produced another human being that was never before.  So technically speaking, Mary can't be the Mother of God because God already was since the beginning of time.

    This seems to me a biased redefinition of motherhood, a transparent attempt to exclude Mary's relationship to Jesus by looking for an alleged essential element of motherhood which that relationship lacks.  One could just as easily argue that a mother is essentially a woman who produces a child with the help of a man, thus Mary is not Jesus' Mother because no man was involved!  Of course, one would then be contradicting Sacred Scripture, which calls Mary "His Mother" over and over again.

    The usual accepted definition of mother is "a woman who gives birth to and raises a child".  Mary gave birth to and raised a Child Who also happened to be God Incarnate, therefore Mary is the Mother of God Incarnate.

    Catholics certainly believe that Jesus always existed as God, and that He has no eternal mother, only an Eternal Father.  However, when He became Man He was truly born of a woman, and so acquired a true mother.  He never ceased to be God in His incarnation:  He was God while in Mary's womb, still God when she gave birth to Him, still God when she nursed Him, changed His diapers, taught Him to walk, weaned Him, etc.

    As we saw above, motherhood is also a person-to-person relationship with a child.  Jesus is a Divine Person only, not a human person, so Mary's Son is not a human person, but the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  Thus Mary is truly the Mother of the Second Person of the Godhead in His Incarnation.

    The Holy Spirit inspired St. Elizabeth to call Mary "the mother of my Lord" (Luke 1:43).  Is Jesus the "Lord" only in His humanity, not in His Deity?  Of course not; He is Lord because He is God! Lord = God, so if Mary is the Mother of Our Lord, she is the Mother of God!

  8. Mary is more of a surrogate, through whom the God Who already existed was born into this world as flesh.

    The Bible calls her "His mother", not "His surrogate".  Surrogate motherhood is a modern, artificial invention of science, which intrudes upon God's original design for human reproduction.  God created motherhood in the beginning, and intended for human beings to have actual mothers.  Why would He give His Son an artificial "surrogate" rather than a true and natural mother?

    Such attempts to redefine Mary's relationship to Jesus are pointless and unbiblical.  The inspired word of God says numerous times that she is His Mother (see Mt 2:11, 13, 14, 20; Luke 1:43; 2:33, 34, 48; John 2:1; 19:25; Acts 1:14).  Since God cannot lie or make a mistake, if His holy Word calls Mary the "Mother of Jesus", then that is what she is.  If you disagree with that, then you disagree with God!

  9. Jesus never actually calls her "Mother" in the Bible.

    What does that prove? That she isn't His Mother?  No, for God's Word says over and over again that she is His Mother, and God cannot contradict Himself.

  10. Though Jesus was born of her, she ceased to be Jesus' Mother when He started His ministry.

    Where does the Bible say that? Nowhere.  But the Bible does continue to refer to Mary as "the Mother of Jesus" after the start of His ministry (John 2:1; 19:25) and even after His Ascension (Acts 1:14). It never calls her the "former Mother of Jesus" or anything like that.  So that argument contradicts Scripture.

  11. Is your mother on earth still going to be your mother in Heaven and for all eternity?  So then, how can any logical person believe that Mary is still the mother of Jesus in Heaven now?

    Scripture tells us that there will be no more marriage in heaven, and we know there will be no more birth or death there.  But nowhere does the Bible say that other earthly relationships are terminated in heaven.  When my mother and I are in heaven, she will still be the same person who gave birth to me on earth.  And at the Resurrection we will both regain the same bodies we had on earth, now perfected and glorified.  She will still have the body which gave me birth and I will still have the body she carried in her womb.

    Our relationship will be a little different; I won't be under her "authority" as I once was (though most parental authority ceases when the child reaches adulthood anyway).  But that doesn't mean our previous earthly relationship will be entirely obliterated, just transformed, like our physical bodies.

    As for Christ and His Mother, the Bible never says "Mary ceased to be Jesus' Mother when He went to heaven".  On the contrary, Acts 1:14 calls Mary the "Mother of Jesus" even after His Ascension. It doesn't call her "the former mother of Jesus" or "she who used to be His mother", just the "Mother of Jesus".  That is what she is; not just was, but is.

    He is no longer a Child under obedience to her (Luke 2:51); in fact, that aspect of their relationship ended while He was still on earth, after He grew up.  But motherhood is more than just a position of authority over a child, it is a person-to-person relationship with ones offspring.  Mary is still the same woman who bore Him, and in His Sacred Humanity Jesus is still the "fruit of her womb", for He still bears the very same Body she gave Him.  She also bears the body which carried Him, since He assumed her body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life.  So she is still His human Mother, and He is still her Divine Son.

  12. In Matthew 12:47-48, when told that His "mother" was outside, Jesus replied "Who is My mother?", thus denying that Mary is His Mother.

    He was not denying that Mary is His Mother; He was simply teaching the crowds that ties of grace are greater than ties of blood.  Since Mary is indeed His Mother, as the Bible states numerous times, Jesus would have been lying if He denied it!  Since He can't lie, that could not have been His meaning

  13. If "ties of grace are greater than ties of blood", why then do you honor Mary for being Jesus' Mother?

    Because God has so honored her.  It is a great honor for the Lord to choose you to be Mother of the Messiah, the Woman prophesied in Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:3 and Jeremiah 31:22. The Jews of that time considered it a great honor; just read St. Elizabeth's Spirit-inspired greeting to Mary (Luke 1:42-45).  Yet Catholics also recognize that Mary is even more blessed because she believed, as stated above.  Mary became the Mother of God by a conscious, deliberate, faith-filled choice to obey God.  Thus her Motherhood is inseparably united with her faith and obedience.  This is what we honor.

  14. You Catholics honor Mary because she is Jesus' Mother, but Jesus Himself says that she is not blessed because she is His mother (Luke 11:27).

    Jesus is not saying that; He is pointing out that even the great honor of being the physical mother of the Messiah is secondary to obedience to God's will.  Yet we know that Mary also obeyed God's will (Luke 1:38), so she is even more blessed for having believed and obeyed (vs. 45) than for having borne Him. For her faith is the source of her Motherhood!

  15. The title "Mother of God" does not appear in the Bible, and we should not use terms not found in the Bible.

    You just used a term not found in the Bible:  the word Bible! Evangelicals use many terms not found in Scripture, such as Trinity, Incarnation, Ascension, plead the blood, point of contact, altar call, sinners prayer, etc.  Since the title "Mother of God" has a biblical basis (unlike "altar call") it is a valid title.

  16. Nevertheless, we should only call Mary the "Mother of Jesus".

    Even this title proves the validity of "Mother of God", for the Name JESUS refers to the Person of Christ, not just His human nature (you name a person, not a nature!).  JESUS is the name which the Eternal Word took when he became incarnate.  So if Mary is the Mother of Jesus, she is the Mother of God.

  17. This title makes Mary seem too important.  She is just a woman God used to bring Jesus into the world; she did no more than lend Him His flesh.

    She "lent" Him His flesh?  When did He give it back to her?

    God doesn't just "use" people and then cast them aside; He incorporates His faithful servants into His plan, as He did with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc.  God never rejected Mary as "unimportant", in fact she was important enough in God's eyes for Him to chose her as Mother.  Is your mother "unimportant" to you?  Why then do you think that Jesus would feel that way about His dear Mother?

  18. If Mary is the "Mother of God", then her mother would be the "Grandmother of God".  See how absurd that is?

    That's not at all absurd; as early as the eighth-century Christians referred to Mary's mother, Saint Anne, as the "Grandmother of God"!  By becoming incarnate, God the Son became a member of a human family, and so gained many human relatives.  Therefore it would be perfectly legitimate to call St. Anne the "Grandmother of God", or her husband, St. Joachim, the "Grandfather of God", or St. Joseph the "Foster-father of God", or Mary the Mother of God.

  19. By calling her "Mother of God", you Catholics make Mary a goddess.

    That's ridiculous; Mary is a woman (Galatians 4:4), not a goddess!  Every Catholic knows that Jesus had to be born of a female human being in order to be human. Were he born of a "goddess" (if such a being existed!) He would not have become Man, for a divine being would logically have divine, not human offspring.

    Jesus became truly human because His Mother Mary is human and human beings have human offspring.  Mother Church never has, does not now and never will teach that Mary is a "goddess" who gave Jesus His Divine Nature! She is a woman who gave God the Son a human nature, which makes her the Mother of God the Son according to the flesh.

  20. What if someone hears a Catholic call Mary "Mother of God" and thinks that she is the Mother of the whole Trinity?

    What if someone reads in the Bible that "The Word was God" (John 1:1) and thinks the Word is the whole Trinity? The term "God" can refer to any of the Three Persons individually or the Godhead as a whole.  When Catholics call Mary "Mother of God" we use the term "God" to refer specifically to God the Son, as the Bible does in John 1:1 and elsewhere.

  21. So shouldn't you specify of which Divine Person Mary is the Mother?

    Scripture itself specifies that she is the Mother of Jesus.  A Christian should know that, even as he or she should know that Jesus is God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  Evangelicals often say "Jesus is God" without going into an in-depth explanation of the Trinity, since they assume their largely-Christian audience will know that Jesus is the Son, not the Father, the Holy Spirit or the entire Trinity. Catholics make the same assumption when we call Mary "Mother of God".

  22. But the title is needlessly confusing to non-Christians.

    Many Christian truths are confusing to non-Christians.  Take, for instance, the fact that Jesus is called both God and the Son of God.  I've even met some Christians who find that confusing:  "How can Jesus be His own Father?" they ask in all sincerity!

    Should we stop using one of those titles for Jesus to avoid confusion?  No, rather we must explain what we mean: "Jesus is God" means that He is God the Son, "Jesus is the Son of God" means that He is the Son of God the Father.  Even so, we should not cease calling Mary "the Mother of God", but should explain what it means. A confusing truth should be explained, not rejected.

  23. This title gives Mary too much honor.

    This is perhaps the crux of the Evangelical objection to this title, and to most Catholic teaching on Mary.

    Yet the title "Mother of God" really says more about Jesus than Mary; in fact, it was declared a dogma at the Council of Ephesus (404 AD) in response to the Nestorian heresy, which denied the fact that Jesus is one Divine Person with two natures: Divine and human.  The title "Mother of God" tells us that Jesus is truly God; so it is a safeguard against any heresy which would downplay or deny His Deity.  (In fact, groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses, who deny Jesus' Deity, are virulently opposed to the Marian title "Mother of God" because they don't believe that Jesus is God, as that title plainly teaches).

    If "Mother of God" expresses the biblical truth that the Father chose Mary to be the Mother of God the Son according to the flesh, then it is not so much the Catholic Church who "honors" Mary with this title, but God, for the title accurately expresses the honor which God willed to bestow upon her!  So anyone who feels that Mary's position as Mother of God is too high an honor should take the matter up with God, not the Church.


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