Is Mary the Mother of God?

The Annunciation

It is a curious fact that many modern Evangelicals (if not their majority, not to mention folk from more historical Protestant bodies) would not want to refer to the Blessed Virgin as the Mother of God (neither as “Blessed Virgin” for that matter, even though the Holy Spirit, trough the lips of Elizabeth, tells her “blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”)

Apparently they are unaware that refusing to do so is to embark in a serious Christological heresy that was refuted by the whole Church over 1,600 hundred years ago – not to mention that it is to reject the Christology espoused by all the Reformers of the 16th century (Reformation from which Evangelicals come) and the theology of their confessions of faith.

The Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431

The Third Ecumenical Council took place in Ephesus in 431 with 200 bishops being present. The council was to address the teachings of Patriarch Nestorius, who overemphasized the distinction between the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ, to the expense of the hypostatic union – therefore dividing him into parts that were hardly united in one Person.

As one of the consequences of this heresy  (among many, including making our salvation impossible if we cannot be united to God through the Person of Christ, but only to his human nature), Nestorius argued that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God the Logos. The Logos only dwelt in Christ, as in a Temple, and the Virgin Mary should be called Christotokos (“Mother [or Bearer] of Christ”) and not Theotokos (“Birth-giver of God”).

The Council decreed that Christ was one Person, not two separate “people”: fully God and fully man, with a rational soul and body. The Virgin Mary is Theotokos because she gave birth not to a mere man, nor to a mere nature, but to a Person, who is God and Man.

By virtue of this union, attributes are communicable and so we can say, for example, that God (not the divine nature) died on the cross. The union of the two natures of Christ took place in such a fashion that one did not disturb the other, perfectly united in a Person of whom she is the Mother and who is God incarnate.

The Council also declared the text of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed to be final and forbade any additional change to it. It also condemned Pelagianism.

Nestorius’ argument:
“The holy virgin is more accurately termed mother of Christ than mother of God”

Cyril of Alexandria’s response:
“. . . Therefore, because the holy virgin bore in the flesh God who was united hypostatically with the flesh, for that reason we call her mother of God, not as though the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh (for “the Word was in the beginning and the Word was God and the Word was with God”, and he made the ages and is coeternal with the Father and craftsman of all things), but because, as we have said, he united to himself hypostatically the human and underwent a birth according to the flesh from her womb. . . . ”

Council’s decision:
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. As to the evangelical and apostolic expressions about the Lord, we know that theologians treat some in common as of one person and distinguish others as of two natures, and interpret the god-befitting ones in connexion with the godhead of Christ and the lowly ones with his humanity.

Decree of the Council Against Nestorius

As, in addition to other things, the impious Nestorius has not obeyed our citation, and did not receive the holy bishops who were sent by us to him, we were compelled to examine his ungodly doctrines.  We discovered that he had held and published impious doctrines in his letters and treatises, as well as in discourses which he delivered in this city, and which have been testified to.  Compelled thereto by the canons and by the letter (ἀναγκαίως κατεπειχθέντες ἀπό τε τῶν κανόνων, καὶ ἐκ τὴς ἐπιστολῆς, κ.τ.λ.) of our most holy father and fellow-servant Cœlestine, the Roman bishop, we have come, with many tears, to this sorrowful sentence against him, namely, that our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he has blasphemed, decrees by the holy Synod that Nestorius be excluded from the episcopal dignity, and from all priestly communion.

Definition of the faith at Nicaea [6th session 22 July 431]

The synod of Nicaea produced this creed: We believe … [the Nicene Creed follows]

It seems fitting that all should assent to this holy creed. It is pious and sufficiently helpful for the whole world. But since some pretend to confess and accept it, while at the same time distorting the force of its expressions to their own opinion and so evading the truth, being sons of error and children of destruction, it has proved necessary to add testimonies from the holy and orthodox fathers that can fill out the meaning they have given to the words and their courage in proclaiming it. All those who have a clear and blameless faith will understand, interpret and proclaim it in this way.

When these documents had been read out, the holy synod decreed the following.

1. It is not permitted to produce or write or compose any other creed except the one which was defined by the holy fathers who were gathered together in the holy Spirit at Nicaea.

2. Any who dare to compose or bring forth or produce another creed for the benefit of those who wish to turn from Hellenism or Judaism or some other heresy to the knowledge of the truth, if they are bishops or clerics they should be deprived of their respective charges and if they are laymen they are to be anathematised.

3. In the same way if any should be discovered, whether bishops, clergy or laity, thinking or teaching the views expressed in his statement by the priest Charisius about the incarnation of the only-begotten Son of God or the disgusting, perverted views of Nestorius, which underlie them, these should be subject to the condemnation of this holy and ecumenical synod. A bishop clearly is to be stripped of his bishopric and deposed, a cleric to be deposed from the clergy, and a lay person is to be anathematised, as was said before.

Later ratification by the Council of Chalcedon:
The Council of Chalcedon has accepted the synodical letters of the blessed Cyril, pastor of the church in Alexandria, to Nestorius and to the Orientals, as being well-suited to refuting Nestorius’s mad folly and to providing an interpretation for those who in their religious zeal might desire understanding of the saving creed [of Nicea]”.

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4 comments on “Is Mary the Mother of God?

  1. On a side note, it is interesting to think about some of the consequences of the Incarnation from the Theotokos: although the Holy Spirit had to miraculously provide a y chromosome, Christ took his entire human nature only from her. Which means he would have looked like a male version of her, and even possibly (especially if one takes a traducianist view) his soul and human personality would’ve been remarkably similar to hers.

  2. James says:

    I have not come across those wanting to deny the Virgin birth, nor Mary being Jesus mother (to do so would be to contradict scripture,which is very clear), however the issue may be in that many sects, there is the espousing of “everasting virginity”. As I have spoken of before, people always seem to go to opposite extremes; Roman catholics, speak of Mary as “co-redemer” with Jesus, and so others go to the other extreme, and state that she was just a woman, and no veneration is needed.
    Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit spoke through Elizabeth, when saying, “Belssed are thou amongst all women..”; so we should not worship her, but she should recieve our admiration, as we would give to other heroes of the faith.

    • I agree James.

      I have met *many* Protestants who deny that Mary is the Mother of God (they argue that she is just the Mother of Jesus, which is exactly what Nestorius said). Almost every time, however, it is out of ignorance of the issues involved.

      Also, with respect to her perpetual virginity, that’s what Luther and Calvin – and every single Christian who lived before them – believed. And, as you said, the greatest human being that has ever lived (apart from Christ) should indeed receive our admiration; in my case, of course, I go beyond that. I ask for her prayers, both privately and publicly, since every liturgy of the Church has supplications for her prayers.

    • Canadian says:

      James,
      Here is a helpful link.
      http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/maria_florovsky_e.htm#n9

      Remember, the church’s position on Mary is primarily about Christ…..it is Christological. This is more than just honoring the Mother of the saviour. Without Mary, there is no salvation……there is no humanity joined to divinity……there is no entrance of God into his creation……there is no salvation of the creation…….there is no flesh given for the life of the world.

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