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Catholic Dictionary




Title of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the physical parent of Jesus, who is God. Although first defined against Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus (431), the concept goes back to subapostolic times. The basis in Scripture is the twofold theme of the Gospels, that Jesus was true God and that Mary was truly the mother of Jesus. St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) wrote to the Ephesians: "Our God Jesus Christ was carried in Mary's womb, according to God's plan of salvation." The title of Theotokos (Mother of God) became current after the third century. It was used by Origen (c. 185- c. 254), and St. Gregory Nazianzen, writing about 382, said: "If anyone does not recognize the holy Mary as Mother of God he is separated from the Divinity."

The Nestorian objection that Mary could not be the Mother of God, because she gave birth to the human nature only, was met by Christian apologists who pointed out that not the nature as such but the person was conceived and born. Since Mary conceived him who was the second person incarnate, she is truly the Mother of God.

Consequent on her divine maternity, Mary transcends in dignity all created persons and stands next to her divine Son in holiness. Ancient writers stressed the relation between Mary's divine maternity and her fullness of grace, which they found asserted in the angelic greeting "Hail, full of grace" (kecharitoméne). Her vocation to become the Mother of God, they reasoned, demanded a special richness of divine friendship.