Why do Catholics call Mary the “Mother of God”? Was she not created by God? Does this title mean that she existed before God?
It is so good that you desire to understand the Church’s teaching about Mary, the one through whom Christ our Savior came into the world. New Year’s Day is the day the Catholic Church celebrates the divine motherhood of Mary, which is based on the teaching of the Gospels, on the writings of the early Fathers, and on the express definition of the Church. It is a beautiful title for Mary. What many do not realize is that this is a name that Christians have been using in reference to her for almost seventeen centuries. In order to understand how we can call Mary the Mother of God, we must first realize and accept the fact that our faith is grounded in mystery. There is much we do not fully understand now, but one day we will. That which we do understand, however, comes to us from what God has revealed.
The Bible tells us that Mary “brought forth her first-born son” and that He was called Jesus (Matthew 1:25). We also read in the Gospel of John that Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word, Who was God, assumed human nature in the womb of Mary (John 1:15). We are referring here to the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh. Jesus Christ (the Second person of the Holy Trinity, one in being with the Father) entered this world, taking on human flesh and a human soul. Jesus is true God and true man. Because we believe that Mary was truly the mother of Jesus, and that Jesus was truly God from the first moment of His conception, then it makes perfect sense that Mary is truly the Mother of God.
We must be careful and make clear that we are not saying that Mary created the divine person of Jesus. Mary gave birth to Jesus, the God-Man. When God “assumed” or “took on” a human nature, it was the result of His perfect will to do so. He chose to be born of her. Therefore, it cannot be said that Mary created God or that she existed before God. We simply mean that a woman is considered a man’s mother when she has conceived and given birth to him. St. Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, who defended this teaching, stated that “it was not that an ordinary man was born first of the Holy Virgin, on whom afterwards the Word descended. What we say is that, being united with the flesh from the womb, (the Word) has undergone birth in the flesh, making the birth in the flesh His own….” Therefore, the Blessed Virgin Mary is rightly called Mother of God (Theotokos).
© Copyright 2003 Grace D. MacKinnon
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Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: email@example.com. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.