The Theotokos. The Blessed Virgin as Mother of God

The Theotokos. The Blessed Virgin as Mother of God

Reflection on Mary in the early Church revolved around her role as the Mother of Jesus. As the Christian faith moved into the Greek and Roman worlds, there was the danger of losing Christ’s humanity and his becoming only a spiritual figure. Early Christian thinkers emphasized that by giving birth to Jesus Mary cooperated in repairing the damage inflicted on the human race by the sin of Adam and Eve.

Yet, some held, as did the Patriarch Nestorius, that while Mary was worthy of all praise she could not be rightfully called Theotokos, Mother of God. He believed that there were two persons in Christ, the divine and the human, and so Mary should be called Christotokos, Mother of Christ, because she was only the mother of the human person.

To deal with this heresy an ecumenical council was called. It met in Ephesus in 431 AD. This council proclaimed that Mary was indeed Theotokos, Mother of God, by the human conception of God in her womb. The bishops in Ephesus emphasized the meaning of the Incarnation. Mary is not Mother of God in terms of Christ’s divinity. But when the Word united himself to humanity by being born of Mary, the Word can be said to have been born of the flesh. Since the divine nature and human nature are united in Jesus Christ, Mary can be said to be the Mother of God.

On hearing of this victory for Mary, the people of Ephesus responded with wild rejoicing. Mary is now seen as the queen of heaven who will intercede for the needs of her children. We too acclaim her as Mother of God every time we recite the Hail Mary. Let us always have recourse to her intercession: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Excerpted from the book Mary and the Saints, Companions on the Journey, by James P. Campbell, D.Min. Loyola Press, Chicago, 2002.