Mary the Mother of God
Written by: Bro. Rey V. Entila
CFD – Diocese of Bacolod (Written: June 2005)
The Blessed Virgin Mary, by giving birth to Jesus Christ who is God the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is truly called the Mother of God.
I. The Teaching of the Church
“Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus”, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord”. In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos).” (CCC 495)
Council of Ephesus (431 AD)
“We confess, then, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and a body, begotten before all ages from the Father in his Godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, one and the same consubstantial with the Father in Godhead and consubstantial with us in humanity, for a union of two natures took place. Therefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the unconfused union, we confess the holy Virgin to be the Mother of God because God the Word took flesh and became man and from his very conception united to himself the temple he took from her” (Formula of Union [A.D. 431]).
“Mary is truly “Mother of God” since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, who is God himself”(CCC 509).
“The Virgin Mary “cooperated through free faith and obedience in human salvation” (Lumen Gentium 56). She uttered her yes “in the name of all human nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 30, 1). By her obedience she became the new Eve, mother of the living” (CCC 511).
II. Old Testament Prophecies
Right after the Fall of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, God delivered the first good news (protoevangelion) saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen.3:15). There shall be enmity between Satan (the serpent) and the woman.
Since Eve has succumbed to the temptations of the devil, she is not the woman that will have enmity (war, deep opposition) with the serpent. That would be another woman (Mary) whose seed (Greek “spermatos”) will be against Satan’s seed. This is the one and only time in the whole of the Bible that the woman will have a seed, which is naturally applied to men. This even predicts the virginal conception of Jesus by the Virgin Mary. Finally, the woman’s seed shall crush the serpent’s (Satan’s) head. It will be the Promised Messiah and His mother, the woman, is Mary.
Another prophecy made some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isa.7:14) The young woman (Greek, parthenos; Hebrew, almah) who will give birth to the Immanuel (literally, “God with us”), is Mary. Therefore, Mary is the Mother of God. Although this verse may have been used by the Jews to refer to King Hezekiah of Judah, the New Testament writers who were inspired by the same Holy Spirit that inspired Old Testament writers, apply this to Jesus. This is the sensus plenior (full sense). The sign there became a miraculous sign because the woman was not just any young woman who was married to conceive a child, but a virgin mother. The son was not just an ordinary son, but the Son of God, whose virgin mother is Mary the Mother of God.
The third of the Old Testament prophecies that concerns about the mother and son relation is in Isaiah 9:5-6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That child is born of the Virgin Mary. Since that child is called the Mighty God and Mary is His mother, Mary is therefore the Mother of God.
III. New Testament Fulfillment
“And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43). St. Elizabeth who was in verse 41, filled with the Holy Spirit, calls Mary the “mother of my Lord”. The Lord (Gk. “Kyrios”) in the Septuagint or Greek version of the Old Testament refers to the “Lord your God” (Deut.6:4). Both Elizabeth and Luke the writer of the Gospel, were guided by the infallible Holy Spirit to proclaim Jesus as Lord or God. Therefore, Mary is the mother of God.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit… ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (Mt.1:18,23). The Old Testament prophecy is now accomplished through the virgin Mary who will bear a son called Emmanuel = “God is with us”. The suffix “el” in Emmanuel in Hebrew means “God”. Its plural form, Elohim, found in Gen.1:1 signifies that God is not just one person (cf. Gen.1:26 – “let us”) but later revealed in the new Testament as a Trinity of Persons. It is the Second Person of the three Divine Persons that Mary was chosen to be the mother. Hence, she is called a divine mother, not that she is divine but that her son is Divine.
“And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. (Luke 1:35). The child born will be called holy, “the Son of God” . The definite article “the” signifies exclusiveness and uniqueness, whereas the “Son of God” proclaims that he has same nature (Gk. Homoousious) with God, but not the same person. Jesus is Son of God by eternal generation having been begotten, not made, not made by the Father from all eternity. Since Mary is declared to be the bearer of this eternal Son of God, then she is the Mother of God.
There are still several passages in the New Testament which prove the point under discussion, worthy of mentioning but need not be given further explanations. “…and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh… Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Mt.2:11,13,20).
“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood outside, asking to speak to him.” (Mt.12:46) Again, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Mt.13:55) Lastly, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31).
b. John the Evangelist
John who is both an apostle and evangelist describes the mother of Jesus as the “woman”.
“On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there” (Jn.2:1).
“When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2: 3-4).
“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” (Jn. 19: 26).
c. St. Paul the Apostle
“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal.4:4) Here St. Paul uses the word “woman” found in the protoevangelion or the first good news in Gen.3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This word takes a mysterious meaning since the woman in this passage will have a son who will crush the serpent’s (satan’s) head. Since that Son is Jesus, Mary is the woman. St. John who was privileged to take care of the Blessed Mother after the death of Jesus on the Cross used this hallowed word “woman” in the beginning (ch.2) and end (ch.19) of his Gospel. “Woman” is found in the beginning (Gen.3:15) and end (Rev.12) of the whole Bible.
IV. Protestant Reformers on Mary as Mother of God
In this research on the Marian doctrines, the researcher also hopes to show from the writings of the Protestant Reformers in the 16th century the truth and facts that even these vehemently anti-Catholic writers did not consider Catholic Marian doctrines as unbiblical. This is contrary to the positions held by modern Protestants today, who in their theological chaos, even rejected what their forebears held dearly. This might be surprising to the eyes and ears of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists today, but it may just indicate that due to the lack of historical scholarship in favor of the “Bible alone” theory, they may have forgotten their doctrinal heritage of the 16th century.
First and foremost among the Protestant Reformers is their unwavering faith that Mary is the Mother of God. Below are the citations of their words and works.
a. Martin Luther
“In this work whereby she was made the Mother of God, so many and such good things were given her that no one can grasp them…. Not only was Mary the mother of Him who is born [in Bethlehem], but of Him who, before the world, was eternally born of the Father, from a Mother in time and at the same time man and God.” (Weimer, p. 572.)
b. John Calvin
“It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of His Son, granted her the highest honor… Elizabeth calls Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God” (Calvini Opera, p. 348, 35.)
c. Ulrich Zwingli
“It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God” (Zwingli, v. 6, 1, p. 639.).
IV. Modern day Fundamentalist Objections Against the title “Mother of God”
“As God, He (Jesus) had no beginning, and He was Mary’s Creator. As God, He cannot possibly have a mother. Mary cannot be the mother of God the Father, nor the mother of God the Holy Spirit. In the same way, she is not the mother of God the Son.” (Pezzotta, p. 137.)
However, the ex-Salesian priest-turned Baptist, Mr. Anthony Pezzotta, has committed grave heresy when he denied the Blessed Mother’s title Mother of God. First, he denied the clear Biblical teaching that the Word (Jesus) who is God became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn.1:1,14) with Mary as his mother (Jn.2:1-4). Since Jesus is God, and Mary was His chosen mother, therefore, Mary is the Mother of God. To deny that Jesus is God is to fall into the condemned Arian heresy of the fourth century. In the same way, to deny that Mary is the Mother of God is to commit the condemned heresy of Nestorius in the fifth century and leads to the heresy of Arius once again. Even Protestant Reformers proclaimed the Catholic belief concerning Mary as Mother of God. Therefore, while biblical, historical, logical and philosophical evidence points to the Catholic faith of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, nothing supports the heresy of Pezzotta.
V. The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers
The Church Fathers are the well-known Christian teachers of the early centuries of Christianity who upheld and defended the teachings of Christ which were passed down from generation to generation. Four characteristics are necessary for a person to be qualified as a Church Father: 1) Antiquity, 2) Orthodoxy, 3) Holiness, and 4) Approval of the Church. The last of the Church Fathers of the West is St. Isidore of Seville (560-636). In the East, it is St. John Damascene (675-749). These Church Fathers were the witnesses of the true Apostolic Tradition that closely guarded the pure deposit of the Christian faith. To deny their authority and orthodoxy is tantamount to the denial of the constant guidance of Christ and the Holy Spirit to His established Church which was tasked to continue the saving mission of Christ. The following are the quotations from the early Church Fathers on Mary as the Mother of God.
a. Irenaeus. “The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God” (Against Heresies, 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).
b. Athanasius. “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” (The Incarnation of the Word of God 8 [A.D. 365]).
c. Jerome. “As to how a virgin became the Mother of God, he [Rufinus] has full knowledge; as to how he himself was born, he knows nothing” (Against Rufinus 2:10 [A.D. 401]).
“Do not marvel at the novelty of the thing, if a Virgin gives birth to God” (Commentaries on Isaiah 3:7:15 [A.D. 409]).
d. Cyril of Alexandria. “I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” (Letter to the Monks of Egypt 1 [A.D. 427]).
“If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the holy Virgin is the Mother of God, inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [John 1:14]: let him be anathema” (ibid.).
e. Vincent of Lerins. “Nestorius, whose disease is of an opposite kind, while pretending that he holds two distinct substances in Christ, brings in of a sudden two persons, and with unheard-of wickedness would have two sons of God, two Christs,—one, God, the other, man; one, begotten of his Father, the other, born of his mother. For which reason he maintains that Saint Mary ought to be called, not the Mother of God, but the Mother of Christ” (The Notebooks 12 [A.D. 434]).
The following excerpts are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the authoritative and magisterial document that proclaims the unchanging truth about the Blessed Mother, her relationship to Jesus as well as to the Church which is His body (Col.1:18).
“Since the Virgin Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. “The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.” “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church” (CCC 963).
“Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death”; it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion:
Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. There she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, joining herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim, born of her: to be given, by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross, as a mother to his disciple, with these words: “Woman, behold your son” (CCC 964).
“After her Son’s Ascension, Mary “aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.” In her association with the apostles and several women, “we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation”(CCC 965).