Today’s blog post explores the doctrine of Mary, Mother of God, a doctrine taught by the earliest Church. We’ll examine the scriptural and historical evidence for this declaration, as well as the counter arguments raised by Protestants, Muslims, and others.
Why This Doctrine Matters
The first thing to understand about the doctrine of Mary being the Mother of God is that this doctrine is not really about Mary at all. It is about the nature of Christ. There are those who claim that Christ had a human nature and a divine nature, and that these two natures were separated although affiliated with one another; that Mary was the mother only of Christ’s human nature and not of His divinity. Christ was, and is, 100% man and 100% God. The two are not divisible but are united.
What It Means
When the Church states that Mary is the mother of God, it is not saying that Mary existed before God or that Mary is the source of God’s existence. It is only making an affirmation that Mary not only contributed ½ of Christ’s genetic material (the other half being supplied in divine manner by the Holy Spirit), but that she carried Him in her womb and raised Him as a child. It is affirming that Christ was really and truly human and at the same time really and truly divine.
"Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should visit me" - Luke 1:43
The Hebrew word that was used by Elizabeth for Lord was ‘Adonai’ when speaking the words, “Mother of My Lord”, thus she was not speaking about an earthly king or ruler but about God.
The Gospel of Luke, therefore, is the first of the four gospels to spell out that Mary was the Mother of God. Acts of the Apostles was before Paul’s death in 67 AD, and the Gospel of Luke was written before Acts was written. This is, therefore, the very earliest piece of historical evidence that Mary was taught to be the Mother of God in the early Church.
While the Gospel of Luke was written by someone who admits to not being an eye-witness to the events of Christ’s life, there is every evidence that it was written by the same Luke who followed after Paul in Acts and thus would have learned directly from St. Paul the truths of the faith.
Iranaeus, writing in 189 AD, had this to say about her, “"The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God" (Against Heresies, 5:19:1).
Hippolytus, writing in 217 AD, wrote, “"[T]o all generations they [the prophets] have pictured forth the grandest subjects for contemplation and for action. Thus, too, they preached of the advent of God in the flesh to the world, his advent by the spotless and God-bearing (theotokos) Mary in the way of birth and growth, and the manner of his life and conversation with men, and his manifestation by baptism, and the new birth that was to be to all men, and the regeneration by the laver [of baptism]" (Discourse on the End of the World 1
Gregory the Wonderworker wrote of her in AD 262, “For Luke, in the inspired Gospel narratives, delivers a testimony not to Joseph only, but also to Mary, the Mother of God, and gives this account with reference to the very family and house of David (Four Homilies)” and “It is our duty to present to God, like sacrifices, all the festivals and hymnal celebrations; and first of all, [the feast of] the Annunciation to the holy Mother of God, to wit, the salutation made to her by the angel, "Hail, full of grace!”
Other early Church Fathers also recognized her as the Mother of God, but these are the earliest after Luke the Evangelist, writer of the Gospel of Luke.
The Council of Ephesus
The Council of Ephesus did not invent the doctrine of Mary, Mother of God, but instead affirmed it as the truth and as divinely inspired Christian teaching.
"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" (Formula of Union [A.D. 431]).