Friday, January 2021, civil society celebrates the coming of a new year, 2021. Whereas the believing community, the Church, celebrates jubilantly the greatest title we can ever endow on Mary, that of Mother of God, theotokos, (Θεοτόκος in Greek).
It was the Council of Ephesus in 431 which declared that if anyone does not confess that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the holy virgin is the “Theotokos” (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the word of God become flesh by birth) let him be anathema. What this solemn declaration clearly meant was that the Council of Ephesus was keen to defend the traditional Church’s teaching that Jesus was both Divine and human, that he had two natures united in His One Person. Mary is the Mother of God in virtue of and because of Jesus Christ, Her Son. Thus, the reason for this Mariological title was a Christological one, which means that it is intimately linked with Jesus Christ. Mary is the “Mother of God” or “God-bearer” and not simply “Mother of Christ” the man, Christokos, as the erroneous doctrine of Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople, said.
Here is some of the witness of the Church Fathers themselves on this most beautiful title regarding Mary.
In Against Heresies, Saint Irenaeus writes: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]).On his behalf Saint Hippolytus, in his Discourse on the End of the World 1, says: [T]o all generations they [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 (theotokos) 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]” (Discourse on the End of the World 1[A.D. 217]).
Gregory the Wonderworker upholds: 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” (Four Homilies 1 [A.D. 262]). It is our duty to present to God, like sacrifices, all the festivals and hymnal celebrations; and first of all, [the feast of] the Annunciation to the holy Mother of God, to wit, the salutation made to her by the angel, ‘Hail, full of grace!’” (ibid., 2). Whilst Peter of Alexandria in his The Genuine Acts of Peter of Alexandria states: They 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” (The Genuine Acts of Peter of Alexandria [A.D. 305]). In his Letter to All Non-Egyptian Bishops, he affirms: 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” (Letter to All Non-Egyptian Bishops 12[A.D. 324]).
The great Saint Methodius of Olympus affirms this Marian title in his Oration on Simeon and Anna when he says: 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” (Oration on Simeon and Anna 7 [A.D. 305]). In number 14 of the same oration Methodius affirms the title Mother of God while praising Mary: Hail to you forever, you virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for unto you do I again return. . . . Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . Wherefore, we pray you, the most excellent among women, who boast in the confidence of your maternal honors, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate your memory, which will ever live, and never fade away” (ibid., 14).
Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures, says: 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” (Catechetical Lectures 10:19 [A.D. 350]). Saint Ephraim the Syrian, in his Songs of Praise, says: Though still a virgin she carried a child in her womb, and the handmaid and work of his wisdom became the Mother of God” (Songs of Praise 1:20 [A.D. 351]). Saint Athansius in his work The Incarnation of the Word of God, writes: 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]).
Epiphanius of Salamis, in The Man Well-Anchored, says: 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” (The Man Well-Anchored 75 [A.D. 374]). And Ambrose of Milan, in his work The Virgins, holds: 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?” (The Virgins 2:2 [A.D. 377]). Gregory of Nazianz in his Letter to Cledonius the Priest, says: If anyone does not agree that holy Mary is Mother of God, he is at odds with the Godhead” (Letter to Cledonius the Priest 101 [A.D. 382]).
Saint Jerome in his work Against Rufinus, states: 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]). And in Commentaries on Isaiah Jerome asserts: 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]). Theodore of Mopsuestia, in The Incarnation, says: When, therefore, they ask, ‘Is Mary mother of man or Mother of God?’ we answer, ‘Both!’ The one by the very nature of what was done and the other by relation (The Incarnation 15 [A.D. 405]).
Saint Cyril of Alexandria, in Homily IV, preached at Ephesus Against Nestorius, says: I see the assembly of the saints, all zealously gathered together, invited by the holy Mother of God, Mary, Ever-Virgin. I was feeling very sad, but then the presence of the holy Fathers changed this sorrow into merriment. Now the sweet words of the hymnographer David have been fulfilled in our presence: “Behold how fair, and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!” (Ps. 133:1). Hail, we say, O holy and mystic Trinity, Who have called us together in the church dedicated to Mary, Mother of God. We hail you, O Mary Mother of God, venerable treasure of the entire world, inextinguishable lamp, crown of virginity, scepter of orthodoxy, imperishable lamp, container of Him Who cannot be contained, Mother and Virgin, through whom it is said in the holy Gospels: “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 21:9).
Hail, you who held the Uncontainable One in your holy and virginal womb! Through you, the Holy Trinity is glorified; the precious Cross is celebrated and adored throughout the world; heaven exults, the angels and archangels rejoice, the demons are put to flight, the tempter falls from Heaven, the fallen creation is brought back to Paradise, all creatures trapped in idolatry come to know of the truth.
Through you, holy baptism and the oil of gladness are administered to believers; through you, churches are established throughout the world; the peoples are led to conversion. What more shall I say? Through you, the Only Begotten Son of God shone forth as a light upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. Through you, the Prophets made their predictions, and the Apostles preached salvation to the nations; through you the dead rise, sovereigns reign, and through you the Holy Trinity reigns.
While admonishing the heretic which does not subscribe to the teaching that Mary is the Mother of God John Cassian tells him and her: Now, you heretic, you say (whoever you are who deny that God was born of the Virgin), that Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, cannot be called the Mother of God, but the Mother only of Christ and not of God—for no one, you say, gives birth to one older than herself. And concerning this utterly stupid argument . . . let us prove by divine testimonies both that Christ is God and that Mary is the Mother of God” (On the Incarnation of Christ Against Nestorius 2:2 [A.D. 429]). Furthermore he adds: You cannot then help admitting that the grace comes from God. It is God, then, who has given it. But it has been given by our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore the Lord Jesus Christ is God. But if he is God, as he certainly is, then she who bore God is the Mother of God” (ibid., 2:5).
And here is the solemn declaration of the Council of Ephesus, better known as the Formula of Union: 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]).
As Mary, the Mother of God, took care of Her Son Incarnate so she takes care of you and me, even now when she is in Heavenly glory. How reassuring is the teaching we find in the Cathecism of the Catholic Church when it says: We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ (no.975). Her maternal care has no end! In a very interesting message of November 29th 1983 in Medjugorje Mary says: I am your mother full of goodness, and Jesus is your great friend. Do not fear anything in His presence. Give Him your heart, from the bottom of your heart. Tell Him your sufferings, thus you will be invigorated in prayer, with a free heart, in a peace without fear.
Is there other message more powerful than this which clearly shows what is meant in practice that Mary is the Mother of God? She is Our Mother because she leads us to Jesus, teaches us about Jesus, and helps us to get more close to Our real greatest friend, Jesus!
Let us, today and always, pray this beautiful prayer to her:
Rejoice Mary, Mother of God, Virgin, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls. Meet it is in truth, to glorify thee, O Birth-giver of God, ever blessed, and all undefiled, the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, thou who without stain didst bear God the word, true Birth-giver of God, we magnify thee.
O gracious Mother of the gracious God, O most pure and blessed Mary, the Mother of God, pour the mercy of thy Son and our God upon my impassionate soul, and with thine intercessions set me unto good deeds, that I may pass the rest of my life without blemish and, with thine aid, attain heaven. O Virgin mother of God, the only one who art pure and blessed. O Queen of the Heavenly Host, Defender of our souls: being delivered from evil, as thy servants, O Mother of God, we offer unto thee the hymns of thanks and victory; but as thou hast power invincible, deliver us from all calamity, that we may cry unto thee: Rejoice, O ever-Virgin Bride!
O virgin, spotless, undefiled, unstained, all-chaste and Pure Lady, Bride of God, who by the glorious birth-giving hast united God the Word with Man and linked our fallen nature with Heavenly Things; who art the hope of the hopeless, the helper of the oppressed, the ready protection of those who haste unto thee, and the refuge of Christians; despise me not, who am defiled and sinful, who by my wicked thoughts, words and deeds, have become an unworthy servant, and by my slothfulness have turned into a slave to evil affections. O Mother of the God of Love, have mercy and compassion upon me, a sinner and a prodigal. Accept this prayer which is offered to thee from my impure lips; and putting forward thy maternal influence with thy Son, my Lord and Master, beseech Him to open unto me the lovingkindness of His grace; beseech Him to overlook my countless transgressions, to give me true repentance and to make me to be a zealous doer of His commandments. And thou, being gracious and compassionate and tender-hearted, be thou ever present with me in this life as my defender and helper, so that I may turn aside the assault of my enemies, and guide me into salvation; help my poor soul at the hour of my death, and drive far from it all the dark forms of the evil ones. And in the dreadful Judgement Day, deliver me from everlasting punishment, and present me as an inheritor of the ineffable glory of the son, our God.
O may I obtain this, most-holy Lady and Birth-giver of God, through thine intercessions and mediations, by the grace and exceeding great love of thine Only-Begotten son, my Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due, with the eternal Father and the All-Holy, Good and Life-Giving Spirit, all honor and glory and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
O most glorious Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ our God, accept our prayers and present them to thy son and our God, that He may, for thy sake, enlighten and save our souls.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap