Mother of God

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That Mary is the mother of God (see theotokos) is a revealed fact so closely linked to Christ's salvific plan for the human race that since the Council of Ephesus in 431 its recognition has been the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy. If Mary is not truly the mother of God, then Christ is not true God as well as true man, and he is not the Redeemer of the whole of humanity.

What makes Mary's motherhood essentially different from purely human motherhood is not the fact that she did something more or something different in conceiving her child, but that her child is a Divine Person. St. Ignatius of Antioch writes that God Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of Mary, who was from the seed of David. Opponents to this teaching sprang up in the early Church. gnosticism, which taught a redemption from the flesh through knowledge, considered the flesh an evil thing utterly beneath God's dignity. docetism held that Christ's body was a mere phantom. valentinus erroneously taught that Christ's real body was a celestial body that merely passed through Mary's body as through a channel. In his version of the New Testament, marcion has Christ appear as a full-grown man. These false teachings were ably refuted by St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Tertullian, but others continued to challenge this key doctrine.

Faustus of Mileve, the champion of manichaeism, affirmed that the virgin whom the Holy Spirit overshadowed was the earth itself and not Mary, and that later the mortal Christ became divine when He was baptized in the Jordan. In rebuttal St. Augustine speaks in his sermons of Mary as God's mother and clearly distinguishes between Mary's conceiving and that of her cousin Elizabeth.

arianism and nestorianism did not deny that Mary is the real mother of Christ, but did deny that Christ is God. In denying this primitive belief that the Incarnate Word is the uncreated Son of the Father, coequal to the Father, the Arians refused to accept Christ's divinity and as a consequence Mary's divine motherhood.

St. athanasius, arius's opponent, proclaimed Mary the mother of God (θεοτόκος, theotokos) and buttressed the doctrine theologically by giving the first explanation of the interchange of properties known in theology as the communication of idioms. The early 4th-century prayer, the earliest known Marian prayer, begins with the words: "We fly to thy patronage, holy Mother of God."

The denial of Mary's divine motherhood by nestorius led to the General Council of ephesus. Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, was a disciple of Bishop theodore of mopsuestia, who was in turn the disciple of diodore, Bishop of Tarsus. As representatives of the antioch school of theology, these three saw two persons in Christ, and the Son of God was distinct from the Son of David. Mary was for them the mother of Christ in whom the Word dwelt substantially.

When St. cyril of alexandria heard that Nestorius was preaching that Mary was christotoko (χριστοτόκος, mother of Christ) but not theotokos (mother of God), he took Nestorius to task in letters, sermons, and writings that defended the incarnation and the divine maternity. In the midst of a flurry of letters with charges and countercharges showered upon Pope celestine i by both St. Cyril and Nestorius, the Emperor theodosius ii convoked the General Council of Ephesus.

At the first session, on June 22, 431, the Council fathers unanimously approved one of St. Cyril's doctrinal letters and deposed Nestorius (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum ed. A. Schönmetzer, 25053). The enthusiastic crowds surged through the streets of the city, shouting "Holy Mary, Mother of God." The official approval of the doctrine contained in St. Cyril's letter was in effect the equivalent of a definition. Theotokos became the chant of the Christian, and the commemoration of "the glorious and ever virgin Mary, Mother of God," found its way into the liturgy of the Eucharist in the Christian East and West.

Mystery of the Motherhood. To restore the human race into his own image, the heavenly Father willed to put his own Son into the very materials of his creation in such a way that the eternal Word would restore harmony in the universe of matter and spirit and between the human and divine orders. The Son of God would become a Son of Adam, and a daughter of Adam's race would become the mother of God's own Son. St. Irenaeus develops this parallelism between the fallen angel and the disobedient virgin in Eden and the loyal angel and the obedient virgin at Nazareth, between the first Adam and the tree in paradise and the Second Adam and the Tree on Calvary.

Since divine motherhood involves the human conception of a preexistent Person, the relation of divine motherhood might even exist from the first instant of Mary's own existence, because of her predestination as mother of God. St. Peter Chrysologus asks why Mary, who was a virgin after Christ's birth, could not be his mother before his conception? Sylvester de Saavedra, studying the likeness between the virgin mother and the eternal Father, claimed that the root and perfection of the mother-Son relation of Mary to Christ is a grace infused into Mary's body preceding in nature Mary's generative action.

M. J. Scheeben looked rather to the relationship of the mother's union with the divine Word. The mutual giving of the Person of the Word and Mary to each other in mutual consent is a kind of divine marriage. These divine nuptials (matrimonium ratum ) by a special grace in her soul virtually and radically bestow upon Mary the bride the divine motherhood front the first instant of her existence. Mary's divine brideship is completed (matrimonium consummatum ) at the Incarnation. This theory has no support in Scripture or patristic tradition.

M. J. Nicolás finds the essence of Mary's motherhood not in a relationship of union but rather in a relationship of origin and even of opposition. The proper effect of generation is separation, since the human flesh substantially sanctified is no longer Mary's flesh in the very instant in which the hypostatic union is realized. This resulting relation of origin forms a supernatural reality that stands between the hypostatic union and the accidental union caused by sanctifying grace.

Theologians commonly agree that Mary's transient generative activity is the proper foundation of her relationship to her Son. St. Thomas Aquinas affirms that some relations are founded upon what remains in the agent from the action performed (In 3 sent. 8.5). Nicolás explains the kind of perfection left in a mother because of her generative action.

As the divine Word assumed a nature perfect in its humanity, he accepted Mary's generative act as a perfect human actvirginal, conscious, voluntary. What remains in the agent after the transient generative action is a permanent disposition or habit, drawing the mother to her child as an immediately connatural object of knowledge and love. As the human generative act was composed of a spiritual and a material element, so does the resulting habit possess composite elements. And just as human nature is raised to the supernatural order by sharing in the divine nature Mary's human motherhood is raised to the hypostatic order by sharing in the relationship of the eternal Father to the Son. Thus Mary's maternal perfection is a unique relationship, a formal image of the relationship which the eternal Father has to the same divine Son. Only the Father and Mary have generated the same eternal Person, he according to his divine nature, she according to his human nature.

From his patristic studies, Joseph Bover concludes that the mother of God would have to be a virginal mother and that only the mother of God could be a virginal mother. Aquinas bases his theology of Mary's virginity upon her assimilation to the Father in virtue of her divine motherhood (see virgin birth).

J. M. Alonso finds in the Church Fathers the thesis that the divine motherhood is a formal participation in the fecundity of the Father. He holds that the three Divine Persons in the order of efficient causality keep their distinct functions in the identity of operations and impress their personal characters on the effect produced. The supernatural form effected in Mary by the Trinitarian relation of the Father is called her personal maternal being, and is the only sanctifying form she possesses. Alonso's thesis seems to disregard papal teaching that all the divine activities that sanctify the human race are common to the Trinity.

De la Taille holds that what gives a divine gift a strictly supernatural quality is the relation of union between created obediential potency and uncreated act. Just as the Word elevated and substantially united his human nature to his Person by actuating it with his divine act of existence, so by analogy in the accidental order the Father communicates his fecundity, elevating and assimilating to himself the foundation of Mary's human motherhood.

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c. w. fields/eds.]

Liturgical Feast. First introduced toward the end of the 4th century, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God is the oldest Marian feast in the Roman liturgical calendar. In the latter part of the 5th century, especially after the Council of Ephesus (431), the liturgical commemoration of the Mother of God appeared in many places. Its date varied, but generally it was close to Christmas: December 18 in Spain, January 18 in Gaul, and January 1, the octave of Christmas in Rome. Thus, the first Marian feast was a feast of the divine maternity of Mary and it concluded the Christmas Octave in the Roman calendar. Until the middle of the 7th century, the Christian West did not seem to have known any other feast other than the feast of Mary, Mother of God. When other Marian feasts were introduced from the 7th century onward, the feast of Mary, Mother of God declined in importance and was replaced by the feast of Circumcision of Christ. The 1969 revision of the Roman liturgical calendar revived the celebration of the feast of Mary, Mother of God on January 1, thereby restoring the octave of Christmas to its original Marian character.

Bibliography: r. laurentin, Queen of Heaven, tr. g. smith (New York 1956). h. m. manteau-bonamy, Maternité divine et l'Incarnation (Bibliothèque Thomiste 27; Paris 1949). m. j. nicolÁs, "Le Concept intégral et maternité divine," Revue thomiste 4243 (1937) 5893, 23072. w. j. burghardt, "Theotokos: The Mother of God," e. d. o'connor, ed., The Mystery of the Woman (Notre Dame, Indiana 1956) 533. c. feckes, The Mystery of the Divine Motherhood, tr. g. smith (New York 1941) 1382, m. d. philippe, "Le Mystère de la maternité divine de Marie," h. du manoir de juaye, ed., Maria: Études sur la Sainte Vierge, 6 v. (Paris 194961) 6:367416, with extensive bibliography. m. schmaus, Katholische Dogmatik, 5 v. in 8 (5th ed. Munich 195359; 6th ed. 1960) 5:62114. g. van ackeren, "Mary's Divine Motherhood," Carol Mariol 2:177227. a. vonier, The Divine Motherhood, in Collected Works, 3 v. (rev. ed. Westminster, Maryland 195253) 1:32775. j. m. alonso, "Hacia una Mariología trinitaria: dos escuelas," Estudios Marianos 10 (1950) 14191; 12 (1952) 23767. j. m. bover,"Cómo conciben los Santos Padres el misterio de la divina maternidad. La virginidad, clave de la maternidad divina," ibid. 8 (1949) 185256. j. m. delgado varela, "Fr. Silvestre de Saavedra y su concepto de maternidad divina," ibid. 4 (1945) 52158. s. meo, La Maternitá divina di Maria nel Concilio Ecumenico di Efeso (Rome 1959). c. spicq, Ce que Jésus doit à sa mère selon la théologie bibliqu et d'après les théologiens médiévaux (Montreal 1959).

[c. w. fields/eds.]