Is Mary the Mother of God?

Jason Dulle

Q: What do you think about calling Mary the "Mother of God?"

 A: Many misunderstand attributing to Mary, the phrase "mother of God," to mean that she is the origin of God, which idea both Protestant and Catholic Trinitarians do not confess. Nestorius was the first to object to the term in the first half of the fifth century, also misunderstanding the term to suggest that Mary was the origin of God. Some today object to the phrase because they believe it is a Catholic teaching. But it must be realized that the phrase is not only accepted by Catholics, but by Protestants also. While it is true that some Protestants have objected to it, it is usually in reaction against the Catholic practice of using the term to "deify" Mary. This, however, is a pietistic approach to the term, not a theological. The early church (as well as the modern) insisted on the term, not because of its implications for Mary, but for its implications to the person of Christ. The theological necessity of saying that Mary was the mother of God is to affirm that the baby she gave birth to was not only man, but also God. It was reasoned that if it was said that Mary only gave birth to Christ's humanity, it would either be a denial of Christ's ontological deity (heresy of Adoptionism), or a denial of the unity of His divine and human natures (heresy of Nestorianism). If Jesus was one unified person, and not two persons in one body (one divine and one human), then He must always be spoken of as the God-man. We cannot speak of His humanity or His deity in isolation, but must always speak of them together in unity. Whatever can be said of one of His natures can be said of His whole person. In theology this is called the communicatio idiomatum, i.e. a communication of attributes.

Theologians who say that Mary is the mother of God realize that she did not create God, but affirm that the baby she gave birth to was both fully God and fully man. The necessity of affirming this often misunderstood term is to protect the full deity and unified person of Christ. He was not a human that God made and then was indwelt by Godís Spirit, but Jesus was God from His conception, and thus was God when He was born. It can be said that Mary gave birth to God because the deity and humanity of Christ were metaphysically unified, and thus the God-man was born out of Maryís womb. We need not take the phrase beyond its theological implications on the person of Christ, however, applying some divine role to Mary. We affirm the theological meaning of the term, but deny its pietistic application to Mary in the Catholic Church.

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