Mary is a controversial figure in Christianity today. One of the controversial aspects of Mary is her traditional title ‘Mother of God’.
In this article we will ask: is Mary Mother of God?
Against Mary as Mother of God
There have always been those who oppose the claim that Mary is the Mother of God.
The main notable example of this in Church history was the Patriarch of Constantinople in the 5th century: Nestorius.
Nestorius claimed that the title ‘Mother of God’ (Greek word: theotokos) was completely inappropriate. Mary (he said) did not really mother God, because God is God and cannot be born or have a mother.
In Nestorius’ view, what Mary mothered was simply a human, fleshly child called Jesus. To Nestorius, this child was different from God the Son. This opened up a striking chasm between the Son of God and Jesus.
If the Son of God and Jesus are not absolutely identical in everyway, then Christians have no right to worship Jesus. This is what Nestorius’ theology led to. He believed Christians should offer to Jesus a different, lesser kind of veneration than the kind of worship they offer to God the Son. So this was no small issue!
Nestorius’ theology was based on some things that are in fact entirely legitimate.
God indeed cannot suffer: we call this divine impassibility. God cannot become impassioned. God cannot die. God cannot begin to exist. And, most relevant to Nestorius, God cannot be born, and therefore cannot really have a mother.
To Nestorius, therefore, only the man, Jesus, was mothered by Mary. But the infinite and eternal Son of God was not mothered by Mary.
So, for Nestorius, to call Mary ‘the Mother of God’ was wrong. It was far better to call her ‘the Mother of Christ’ (Greek: christotokos).
Many Christians today still follow this basic line of thought.
In Favour of Mary as Mother of God
So why on earth do Catholics, the Orthodox and many Protestants disagree with Nestorius?
Because of one phrase and all its meaning: the Incarnation (becoming flesh) of God the Word.
The entire point of Christianity has always been the belief that God (the Son) has truly entered our domain and become one of us by becoming flesh. John’s gospel chapter 1: ‘and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.‘
God became a human being, every bit as human as we are, yet without sin. In becoming human, God did not cease to be God. The eternal Son of God became a man, Jesus, in such a way that they are absolutely one and the same person/individual.
It was this truth that Nestorius couldn’t seem to really believe.
The bottomline is that if Jesus is the Son of God, then Jesus is God. And if Jesus is God, and if Mary mothered Jesus, then truly – absolutely – Mary mothered God.
Mary is therefore quite rightly called ‘the Mother of God’. She is not simply ‘the mother of Jesus’ or ‘the mother of Christ’.
She is the Mother of Christ, but at the same time she is also the Mother of God, because Christ and God the Son are one and same divine Person.
Mary as the Mother of God in Scripture
Some suggest that the idea of Mary as the Mother of God is not found in the Bible.
It is true that the exact words ‘Mary is the mother of God’ are not found in Scripture. But there is a passage which very strongly implies this very thing.
In Luke’s gospel, chapter 1, Mary goes to visit St Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. St Elizabeth is so delighted to be visited by Mary that she exclaims: ‘And how is it that I have this great honour that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?’ (verse 43).
Which ‘Lord’ is Elizabeth referring to? Obviously, as a good Jew, to God.
Therefore, Elizabeth means here that ‘the mother of my God’ has come to her. And that mother of God is Mary. It’s no wonder Elizabeth was staggered by such a great honour as this!
The Practical Significance of the title ‘Mother of God’
There are some very practical applications of Mary being the Mother of God.
First, if Mary is the Mother of God, then she is worthy of tremendous respect and honour.
It is surely no small thing for someone to really be God’s own Mother. And yet this is exactly what Mary is. Forever. Permanently. Until the end of all things, and for all eternity. This is Mary’s permanent identity forevermore.
Our Christian lives ought to reflect this hugely significant truth about Mary.
It’s also a truth about God: he really has a Mother. And so honouring Mary and showing her tremendous respect is also showing tremendous respect to God.
Second, if Mary is the Mother of God, then it means she shares a relationship with Jesus that is unmatched by anyone or anything else in all of creation.
Mary’s relationship with God is absolutely unique, because she is his Mother.
It’s a short step from appreciating this to also realising that it would be a very good idea to approach Mary to ask for her intercession with her Son.
Obviously God is going to listen to his Mother more than anyone else. That’s precisely what is taught in John 2 at the wedding at Cana.
This also puts Mary at the centre of Christianity with Jesus her Son, rather than at the sidelines.
If her relationship with him forevermore is one of Mother and Child, then when we think of Jesus we ought to think of Mary, and when we think of Mary we ought to think of Jesus.
A ‘Jesus only’ kind of Christianity that excludes Mary, or keeps her far away, isn’t appropriate if Mary is truly God’s own Mother, and if Mary and Jesus share an absolutely unique and extremely close/special relationship.
Third, if Mary is the Mother of God, then to imitate Jesus Christ, we need to honour Mary and submit to her.
Jesus does this very thing at the end of Luke’s gospel chapter 2: ‘And Jesus went down with them [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth. He submitted himself to them.’
Jesus understood that one of the Ten Commandments taught: ‘honour your father and mother.’ If we wish to be like Jesus, we will also need to honour his Mother Mary by submitting ourselves to her.
This helps us to realise that Mary is not only God’s Mother, but she is our Mother also.
The teaching of union with Christ ensures this. Christians are one with Christ through faith and holy baptism. If Christ truly has a Mother, then his Mother is also ours.
We have seen, then, that Mary is the Mother of God, and that she is really important – central even – to the Christian faith.
In fact, without Mary, there is no Christianity, because Mary is the unique Mother of our Redeemer.
Our very Salvation (Jesus Christ) comes to us from the immaculate body of Mary. He is bone of her bones, and flesh of her flesh.
Let us, then, devote ourselves always to God by remembering and blessing his Mother everyday, and as often as possible. ‘All generations shall call me blessed’, she said in her Magnificat (Luke 1).
As the permanent Mother of God, Mary is our mother also, the Mother of all Christians. As our Mother, she loves each of us with a love we cannot fathom.
Let us begin a loving relationship with her right now. You can talk to her right now where you are.
There are many ways we can start a loving relationship with our Mother. One special way we can do this is to take up the daily recitation of the most holy Rosary.
If you wish to buy a rosary, click this link for some help.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.