The Council of Ephesus taught that Mary is truly the Mother of God,
since she gave birth to the Second Person of the Trinity who became man
for our sake
The Church "also contemplates with wonder and celebrates with
veneration the immense greatness conferred on Mary by the One who wanted
to be her Son", the Holy Father said at the General Audience of
Wednesday, 27 November, as he discussed the Blessed Virgin's title
"Mother of God". Here is a translation of his catechesis,
which was the 37th in the series on the Blessed Mother and was given in
1. Contemplation of the mystery of the Saviour's birth has led
Christian people not only to invoke the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of
Jesus, but also to recognize her as Mother of God. This truth was
already confirmed and perceived as belonging to the Church's heritage of
faith from the early centuries of the Christian era, until it was
solemnly proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
In the first Christian community, as the disciples became more aware
that Jesus is the Son of God, it became ever clearer that Mary is the Theotókos,
the Mother of God. This is a title which does not appear explictly
in the Gospel texts, but in them the "Mother of Jesus" is
mentioned and it is affirmed that Jesus is God (Jn 20:28; cf. 5:18;
10:30, 33). Mary is in any case presented as the Mother of Emmanuel,
which means "God with us" (cf. Mt 1:22-23).
Already in the third century, as can be deduced from an ancient
written witness, the Christians of Egypt addressed this prayer to Mary:
"We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God: despise not our
petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all evil, O glorious
and blessed Virgin" (from the Liturgy of the Hours). The
expression Theotókos appears explicitly for the first time in
this ancient witness.
In pagan mythology, it often happened that a certain goddess would be
presented as the mother of some god. For example, the supreme god, Zeus,
had the goddess Rhea as his mother. This context perhaps helped
Christians to use the title "Theotókos ", "Mother of
God", for the Mother of Jesus. It should nevertheless be noted that
this title did not exist but was created by Christians to express a
belief which had nothing to do with pagan mythology, belief in the
virginal conception in Mary's womb of the One who had always been the
eternal Word of God.
Council of Ephesus proclaimed Mary as the Mother of God
2. By the fourth century, the term Theotókos was frequently
used in the East and West. Devotion and theology refer more and more to
this term, which had by now become part of the Church's patrimony of
One can therefore understand the great protest movement that arose in
the fifth century when Nestorius cast doubt on the correctness of the
title "Mother of God". In fact, being inclined to hold that
Mary was only the mother of the man Jesus, he maintained that
"Mother of Christ" was the only doctrinally correct
expression. Nestorius was led to make this error by his difficulty in
admitting the unity of Christ's person and by his erroneous
interpretation of the distinction between the two natures—divine and
human—present in him.
In 431 the Council of Ephesus condemned his theses and, in affirming
the subsistence of the divine and human natures in the one person of the
Son, proclaimed Mary the Mother of God.
3. Now, the difficulties and objections raised by Nestorius offer us
the opportunity to make several useful reflections for correctly
understanding and interpreting this title. The expression Theotókos,
which literally means, "she who has begotten God", can at
first sight seem surprising; in fact it raises the question as to how it
is possible for a human creature to give birth to God. The answer of the
Church's faith is clear: Mary's divine motherhood refers only to the
human begetting of the Son of God but not, however, to his divine birth.
The Son of God was eternally begotten of God the Father, and is
consubstantial with him. Mary, of course, has no part in this eternal
birth. However, the Son of God assumed our human nature 2,000 years ago
and was conceived by and born of Mary.
In proclaiming Mary "Mother of God", the Church thus
intends to affirm that she is the "Mother of the Incarnate Word,
who is God". Her motherhood does not, therefore, extend to all the
Trinity, but only to the Second Person, the Son, who, in becoming
incarnate, took his human nature from her.
Motherhood is a relationship of person to person: a mother is not
only mother of the body or of the physical creature born of her womb,
but of the person she begets. Thus having given birth, according to his
human nature, to the person of Jesus, who is a divine person, Mary is
the Mother of God.
Blessed Virgin's consent precedes Incarnation
4. In proclaiming Mary "Mother of God", the Church in a
single phrase professes her belief regarding the Son and the Mother.
This union was already seen at the Council of Ephesus; in defining
Mary's divine motherhood, the Fathers intended to emphasize their belief
in the divinity of Christ. Despite ancient and recent objections about
the appropriateness of recognizing Mary by this title, Christians of all
times, by correctly interpreting the meaning of this motherhood, have
made it a privileged expression of their faith in the divinity of Christ
and their love for the Blessed Virgin.
On the one hand, the Church recognizes the Theotókos as
guaranteeing the reality of the Incarnation because—as St Augustine
says—"if the Mother were fictitious, the flesh would also be
fictitious ... and the scars of the Resurrection" (Tract. in Ev.
Ioannis, 8, 6-7). On the other hand, she also
contemplates with wonder and celebrates with veneration the immense
greatness conferred on Mary by the One who wanted to be her Son. The
expression "Mother of God" refers to the Word of God, who in
the Incarnation assumed the lowliness of the human condition in order to
raise man to divine sonship. But in the light of the sublime dignity
conferred on the Virgin of Nazareth, this title also proclaims the
nobility of woman and her loftiest vocation. God in fact treats Mary as
a free and responsible person and does not bring about the Incarnation
of his Son until after he has obtained her consent.
Following the example of the ancient Christians of Egypt, let the
faithful entrust themselves to her who, being the Mother of God, can
obtain from her divine Son the grace of deliverance from evil and of