Feast of the Motherhood of the Most Blessed and Ever Virgin Mary
Christian Doctrinal Instruction: “The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God”
“If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel [Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ] in truth is God, and that on this account the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos, Gk.) – for according to the flesh She gave birth to the Word of God made flesh – let him be anathema” (“The Anathemas of the Chapter of St. Cyril [against Nestorius]” of the Council of Ephesus, 431 AD).
“We rightly teach that the glorious Holy ever Virgin Mary is acknowledged by Catholic men [to be] both properly and truly the one who bore God… become incarnate from Her…. Because the Son of God was properly and truly made flesh from Her and born of Her, we confess that she was properly and truly the Mother of God made incarnate and born from Her…” (Pope John II, 533-535, Epistle Olim quidem; the same affirmed by Popes St. Agapetus I, 535-536, and St. Silverius, 536-540).
Error: the Nestorian heresy
The denial of the true humanity of Christ involves the denial of the true motherhood of Mary and the denial of the Divinity of Christ logically leads also to the denial of Mary’s motherhood of God. Thus, the Nestorians refused to recognize Mary’s title “Theotokos” (Mother of God), and designated Her by the titles “Mother of Man” or “Mother of Christ”.
The Catholic Dogma: Mary is truly the Mother of God
In the Apostles’ Creed, the Church professes her belief in the Son of God, “born of the Virgin Mary.” As the Mother of the Son of God, Mary is the Mother of God.
The dogma of Mary’s Motherhood of God contains two truths:
1. Mary is truly a mother, that is, She contributed everything to the formation of the human nature of Christ, that every other mother contributes to the formation of the fruit of her body;
2. Mary is truly the Mother of God, that is, She conceived and bore the Second Person of the Divinity, not indeed according to the Divine Nature, but according to the assumed human nature.
Proof from the Sacred Scriptures, Tradition, and Reason
The Church, through which the Divine Spirit teaches men all truth, explicitly sets forth what the Sacred Writ implicitlyaffirms. Holy Writ attests to the true Divinity of Christ [That all men may honor the Son, as they honor the Father (Jn. 5.23), for example] and to the true motherhood of Mary. Mary’s true motherhood is clearly foretold by the Prophet Isaias, Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and His Name shall be called Emmanuel (7.14). In similar words the Angel transmits to Mary the message, Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son and thou shall call His Name Jesus (Lk. 1.31). Mary’s motherhood of God is implied in the words of St. Luke, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Lk. 1.35), and in the words of St. Paul, God sent His Son made of a Woman (Gal. 4.4). The Woman who bore the Son of God is the Progenitress of God, or the Mother of God. Mary is the Mother of God: not the Most Holy Trinity but the Second Person – the Eternal Word (cf., Jn. 1.1) – Who at the Incarnation assumed the human nature and united to Himself both the divine and human natures.
The Fathers also teach Mary’s true motherhood of God, not explicitly, but implicitly. St. Ignatius of Antioch: “For Our God Jesus Christ was carried in Mary’s womb according to God’s resolve of salvation.” St. Irenaeus: “This Christ, Who as Logos [the Word] of the Father was with the Father… was born of a Virgin.” The title of Theotokos became current after the third century. It is attested to by Origen, St. Alexander of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, St. Athanasius, St. Epiphanius, by the Cappadocians and others, as well as by Arius (a priest of Jewish descent who denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ0 and Apollinaris of Laodicea. St. Gregory of Nazianzen: “If anyone does not recognize the Holy Mary as the Mother of God, he is separated from the Divinity.” The principal defender of Mary’s motherhood of God against the Nestorians is St. Cyril of Alexandria.
To the objection made by Nestorius that Mary is not the Mother of God because from Her was taken the human nature only, but not the Divine Nature, it is replied that not the nature as such, but the person was conceived and born. By comparison, the mother who bore us did not have any part in the production of our soul – the nobler part of our being which was the work of God alone – and yet no one would dream of saying ‘the mother of my body’ but ‘my mother,’ that is, the mother of one who lives and breathes, thinks and acts, one in his personality, though uniting in it a soul directly created by God, and a material body directly derived from the maternal womb. As Mary conceived and bore the Person of the Eternal Word subsisting in human nature, She is truly the Mother of God. Thus, the title Theotokos includes a confession of the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
1. Mary’s Objective Dignity
As the Mother of God, Mary, of all rational creatures [She is still a creature; not a divine ‘Creatress’ as the heretics would impute], transcends in dignity all created persons , angels and men [therefore, Her transcendence is only of created dignity still, never of glory due the Divine], because the dignity of a creature is the greater the nearer it is to God. And of all created things after the human nature of Christ, which is hypostatically united with the Person of the Eternal Word, Mary is nearest to the Triune God. As a true mother, She is related by blood to the Son of God according to His human nature. Through the Son, She is associated intimately also with the Father and the Holy Ghost. The Church honors Her on account of Her position as Mother of God, and on account of Her high endowment with grace deriving from Her position as the daughter of the Heavenly Father and the Spouse of the Holy Ghost. In a certain sense, Mary’s dignity is infinite, since She is the Mother of an Infinite Divine Person.
In order to express the sublime dignity of the Mother of God, the Church, following the Fathers, applies, especially in her Sacred Liturgy, many Old Testament literary passages in an accommodated sense for Mary: a) from the Psalms, which depict the glory of the magnificence of the Tent of the Covenant , of the Temple, and of City of Sion (86.3; 45.5; 131.13 – chapters and verses according to DRV); b) from the Sapiential or Wisdom Books which refer to the Divine Wisdom – transferred to Mary Sedes Sapientiae (Seat of Wisdom): Prov. 8.22ff; Ecclus. [Ecclesiasticus; Sirach in Neo-Catholic versions] 11.23ff; c) from the Canticle of Canticles [Song of Songs in non-Catholic versions], in which the Bride is glorified (for example, 4.7) and transferred to Mary as “the Bride of the Holy Ghost.”
2. Mary’s Plenitude of Grace
Mary’s plenitude of grace is declared in the Angelic salutation: Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum (“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” Lk. 1.28). According to the context, Mary’s special endowment of grace is an accompaniment of Her vocation to be the Mother of God. Her vocation demands a specially rich measure of Sanctifying Grace.
The Fathers stress the connection between Mary’s fullness of grace and Her dignity as Mother of God. St. Augustine, having based Her sinlessness on Her dignity as Mother of God: “Whence, then, do we know with what excess of grace She was endowed, in order to conquer sin in every regard, who merited to conceive and to bear Him of Whom it is certain that He had no sin?” (De natura et gratia, 36, 42).
St. Thomas Aquinas sees in Mary’s fullness of grace a verification of the axiom: The nearer a thing is to a principle, the more it receives from the operation of that principle. But of all creatures Mary His Mother stands nearest to Christ, Who is the Source of Grace – as God, being the Origin of all graces; and, as Man being the Instrument. Consequently, She duly received from Him a supreme measure of grace – which still falls as much sort of Christ’s fullness of grace. Mary’s vocation to be the Mother of God demands for Her the richest endowment with Grace (cf., Summa, III, 27,5).
A blessed Feast to all!