From the very beginning, the Church has recognized the virginal
motherhood of Mary, who conceived by the power of the
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 13 September, the Holy Father
continued the catechesis he had begun the previous week on the Blessed
Virgin Mary. In this talk he discussed the mystery of Mary's virginal
motherhood and the title officially attributed to her by the Council of
Ephesus in 431. Here is a translation of the Pope's catechesis, which
was the second in the series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in
1. In the Constitution Lumen gentium, the Council states that
"joined to Christ the head and in communion with all his saints,
the faithful must in the first place reverence the memory 'of the
glorious ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus
Christ'" (n. 52). The conciliar Constitution uses these terms from
the Roman Canon of the Mass, thereby stressing how faith in the divine
motherhood of Mary has been present in Christian thought since the first
In the newborn Church Mary is remembered with the title "Mother
of Jesus". It is Luke himself who gives her this title in the Acts
of the Apostles, a title that corresponds moreover to what is said
in the Gospels: "Is this not ... the son of Mary?", the
residents of Nazareth wonder according to the Evangelist Mark's account
(6:3); "Isn't Mary known to be his mother?", is the question
recorded by Matthew (13:55).
The motherhood of Mary also concerns the Church
2. In the disciples' eyes, as they gathered after the Ascension, the
title "Mother of Jesus" acquires its full meaning. For them,
Mary is a person unique in her kind: she received the singular grace of
giving birth to the Saviour of humanity; she lived for a long while at
his side; and on Calvary she was called by the Crucified One to exercise
a "new motherhood" in relation to the beloved disciple and,
through him, to the whole Church.
For these who believe in Jesus and follow him, "Mother of
Jesus" is a title of honour and veneration, and will forever remain
such in the faith and life of the Church. In a particular way, by this
title Christians mean to say that one cannot refer to Jesus' origins
without acknowledging the role of the woman who gave him birth in the
Spirit according to his human nature. Her maternal role also involves
the birth and growth of the Church. In recalling the place of Mary in
Jesus' life, the faithful discover each day her efficacious presence in
their own spiritual journey.
3. From the beginning, the Church has acknowledged the virginal
motherhood of Mary. As the infancy Gospels enable us to grasp, the first
Christian continuities themselves gathered together Mary's recollections
about the mysterious circumstances of the Saviour's conception and
birth. In particular, the Annunciation account responds to the
disciples' desire to have the deepest knowledge of the events connected
with the beginnings of the risen Christ's earthly life. In the last
analysis, Mary is at the origin of the revelation about the mystery of
the virginal conception by the work of the Holy Spirit.
This truth, showing Jesus' divine origin, was immediately grasped by
the first Christians for its important significance and included among
the key affirmations of their faith. Son of Joseph according to the law,
Jesus in fact, by an extraordinary intervention of the Holy Spirit, was
in his humanity only the son of Mary, since he was born without the
intervention of man.
Mary's virginity thus acquires a unique value and casts new light on
the birth of Jesus and on the mystery of his sonship, since the virginal
generation is the sign that Jesus has God himself as his Father.
Acknowledged and proclaimed by the faith of the Fathers, the virginal
motherhood can never be separated from the identity of Jesus, true God
and true man, as "born of the Virgin Mary", as we profess in
the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Mary is the only Virgin who is also
a Mother. The extraordinary co-presence of these two gifts in the person
of the maiden of Nazareth has led Christians to call Mary simply
"the Virgin", even when they celebrate her motherhood.
The virginity of Mary thus initiates in the Christian community the
spread of the virginal life embraced by all who are called to it by the
Lord. This special vocation, which reaches its apex in Christ's example,
represents immeasurable spiritual wealth for the Church in every age,
which finds in Mary her inspiration and model
'Mother of God' was expression of popular piety
4 The assertion: "Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary"
already implies in this event a transcendent mystery, which can find its
most complete expression only in the truth of Jesus' divine sonship. The
truth of Mary's divine motherhood is closely tied to this central
statement of the Christian faith: she is indeed the Mother of the
Incarnate Word, in whom is "God from God ... true God from me
The title "Mother of God", already attested by Matthew in
the equivalent expression "Mother of Emmanuel", God-with-us
(cf. Mt 1.23), was explicitly attributed to Mary only after a reflection
that embraced about two centuries. It is third-century Christians in
Egypt who begin to invoke Mary as "Theotókos", Mother of God.
With this title, which is broadly echoed in the devotion of the
Christian people, Mary is seen in the true dimension of her motherhood:
she is the Mother of God's Son, whom she virginally begot according to
his human nature and raised him with her motherly love, thus
contributing to the human growth of the dime person who came to
transform the destiny of mankind.
5. In a highly significant way, the most ancient prayer to Mary
("Sub tuum praesidium...", "We fly to thy
patronage...") contains the invocation: "Theotókos, Mother of
God". This title did not originally come from the reflection of
theologians, but from an intuition of faith of the Christian people.
Those who acknowledge Jesus as God address Mary as the Mother of God and
hope to obtain her powerful aid in the trials of life.
The Council of Ephesus in 431 defined the dogma of the divine
motherhood, officially attributing to Mary the title "Theotókos"
in reference to the one person of Christ, true God and true man.
The three expressions which the Church has used down the centuries to
describe her faith in the motherhood of Mary: "Mother of
Jesus", "Virgin Mother" and "Mother of God",
thus show that Mary's motherhood is intimately linked with the mystery
of the Incarnation. They are affirmations of doctrine, connected as well
with popular piety, which help define the very identity of Christ.