The Virgin Adoring the Child Jesus, painting by Correggio; in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7Even since the dawn of the Church’s life, Mary has been called lovingly the Mother of God. This title was part of the liturgy and prayer, and most importantly, it was declared as a dogma at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431. A dogma is a divinely revealed truth that is necessary for salvation. A dogma helps make to clearly define an issue of Faith. Dogmas are things like: “Jesus is God,” “Mary is Theotokos,” “God is a Trinity,” etc. We say they are divinely revealed because only God could show them to us. We could not come to know these things without the grace of God and His revelation of Himself. Also, because they are divinely revealed, they are worthy of the utmost trust. It is not something a human mind thought up, and so we do not need to worry if a human mind cannot fully comprehend a dogma. The important thing is that God revealed it, and because He revealed it, we can trust it.
Also, a dogma is a divinely revealed truth necessary for salvation. When the Church declares a doctrine of the faith to be a Dogma, all of the baptized around the world are called to believe it with the full assent of faith. This is because it is revealed by God through the Church. You cannot be Catholic and not believe the dogmas of the Church.
As such, you cannot be Catholic and not believe that Mary is the Theotokos. We believe it not because it makes sense (though it does), or because it has a long history (though it does), but because God said it was true. Here are some of the ways it shows up in history though, and some of the reasons that we call Mary the Theotokos:
The title of Theotokos appears in the earliest liturgies of the Church:
“It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify you.”The title of Theotokos was supported by the Doctors of the Church:
-The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
“If one does not acknowledge Mary as Theotokos, he is estranged from God.”
-St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Epistle 101)
Mary’s Divine Motherhood
Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus,” Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord.” In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theo-tokos). Catechism of the Catholic Church #495So now that we know that Theotokos means ‘God Bearer’ and that we call Mary the Theotokos, what does it mean for us? It means a lot. The mystery of Mary is a mystery that is tied up intimately into Christ and the Church. To say that Mary is the Mother of God is to also imply, necessarily, that she is the Mother of Christ’s Body. In fact, Christ’s Body was formed in Mary and took its being from Mary.
So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:25-27 RSVCEWhat we can learn from Mary as Theotokos is almost endless, but one of the more important points is that all of Mary’s special graces flow from her relationship to Christ. Also, her relationship to Christ defines her relationship to the Church and to us. Mary is intimately tied to the Church, and as we learn more about Mary we will see all the ways in which this affects us as children of the Church and children of Mary!
Our Lady appears in Knock, Ireland
Mary – Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church
Since the Virgin Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. “The Virgin Mary… is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer….She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’… since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.” “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.” Catechism of the Catholic Church #963