The Mother of God

The title Mother of God (Greek theotokos), is limited by definition. No one gave birth to God, but the title is true, as it defines Mary as the one who gave birth to the incarnate Son of God. It is a remarkable role Mary was called on to play, unbelievable in some ways, with which Mary had to come to terms before she gave birth to Jesus and even after giving birth to him. How could a young woman—we might even call her a girl—be called upon to give birth to the savior of the world?

The incarnation is nothing if not the means by which God came to humanity in order to raise us up to God. And when God came down to humanity, it was in order to live among us as a human being and to share with us in human life from beginning to end. Divinity taking on human nature changes our knowledge of who we are and of our eternal destiny, and it allows us to understand God’s nature more fully; but this does not mean that understanding God, ourselves or our role in the divine drama is simple.

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Mary was visited by shepherds, Luke tells us, most likely boys who had the cold night watch with their sheep, protecting them from danger. The shepherds had received a visitation from an angel, who told them, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:11) and explained to them where to find the child. So the shepherd boys ran to Mary and Joseph and told them what they had heard.

It seems that there were more people than just Mary and Joseph present, for we are told that “all who heard it were ‘amazed’ at what the shepherds told them.” Mary, however, was more than amazed, for she was the mother of this infant, a wondrous thing in itself. Mary, in fact, “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” This was not just an encounter with divinity, as it was for the shepherds, for this was Mary’s infant son, whom she had carried in her womb, the son she would nurse and raise.

The Greek word used here means to “hold, or treasure (in one’s memory),” but it could also mean to “keep in mind, or be concerned about” or even “to protect, defend against harm or ruin.” The word translated “ponder” means “consider, ponder, draw conclusions about.” What Mary is treasuring and pondering seems especially to be the rhêmata, which could be translated as “words” or “things” or “events.” All of these Greek words indicate that Mary was coming to terms not just with what had happened, or what she had been told, but what was still to happen.

It does not mean she understood all of these words or events, for when the 12-year-old Jesus was found in the Temple after three days and asked his frazzled parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49), Mary and Joseph “did not understand what he said to them” (Lk 2:50).

Did Mary understand what it meant that her son was Messiah, the Lord? Did she understand the way in which Jesus was the Son of God? Did she know how Jesus would die and understand the significance of it? Whether she understood immediately or not, she kept faith with God and that meant raising her son, taking him to be circumcised on the eighth day like every Jewish infant boy, teaching him Torah, feeding and caring for him. We can accept God’s ways and even be major players in God’s plan, but this does not mean that we understand all the ways of God. This is precisely the role of faith.

God’s ways are revealed in time and in the development of tradition. Because Mary became the Mother of God, the Son of God was born among us. And it is through Jesus that we are adopted into God’s family. The apostle Paul tells us: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” By becoming Mother of God she allowed us all to become children of God, sons and daughters crying out “Abba! Father!”

John W. Martens

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William Rydberg
3 years ago
While I appreciate that you are not a co-religionist, I do object to statements in this Catholic Magazine that can be interpreted about the Theotokos, the Mother of God which are incorrect from a Catholic point of view, especially when the Catholic interpretation is not put forward to at least set the record straight about Catholic teaching, in my opinion. The Editors should have caught this in my opinion as well. But that is up to the Jesuit Fathers that run the Magazine, not me. Mary did in fact give birth to the Person of Jesus Christ She did not give birth to Jesus humanity only, she gave birth to the whole Christ a Person, That Divine Person is the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, One God. Therefore she is the Mother of God - Holy Theotokos. Some days I miss Fr. John A. Hardon S.J. more than others. in Christ,
Catherine Green
2 years 11 months ago
Holy Mother of God - Theotokos - pray for us. I am a cradle Catholic and find inspiration in many such Christian writers as C.S. Lewis, who did not happen to be my co-religionist, either. Am I reading the same article that William Rydberg read? "By becoming Mother of God she allowed us all to become children of God, sons and daughters crying out “Abba! Father!” Perhaps you have misunderstood the statement that no one gave birth to God? God - who always was, is and always will be - was of course not given birth. Yet, as this goes on to state, Jesus was the incarnate son of God and his mother was Mary. As your fellow Catholic, William, I would ask you to drop that axe you are grinding.
William Rydberg
2 years 11 months ago
Reply to Catherine Green: You say you are a co-religionist. I suggest that you refresh yourself through looking at our Catechism. Or if you are historically inclined, the History of the Council of Ephesus (431). Read Vatican II, all the recent Popes on Our Lady, or even check out the Orthodox Church explanation of Theotokos since they also accept the Council. Or Google it. Lot's of resources available. Pax et bonum this Christmastime. This 4th day of Christmas in the Octave... Mary did in fact give birth to the Person of Jesus Christ She did not give birth to Jesus humanity only, she gave birth to the whole Christ a Person, That Divine Person is the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, One God. Therefore she is the Mother of God - Holy Theotokos. Some days I miss Fr. John A. Hardon S.J. more than others. in Christ,
Catherine Green
2 years 11 months ago
William - the wider theological reference to the fact that God was not ever given birth to but Who always existed and always will - I was trying to point out in my first note seems to be something ADDED to the Theotokos article by this writer, as a clarification. I tried to explain to you that rather than deny that Mary gave birth to Jesus fully human and divine, it is clear Martens is saying here that she did give birth to the God incarnate, Jesus. So you neednt direct me to other readings or continue to find argument where there is none. Mary gave birth to Jesus who is God. We are all on the same page. Having said that I want to repeat that the grinding on about someone's religion is simply out of place. Furthermore I don't know where you are finding that argument either - I believe Martens is in fact what you call your co-religionist, if by that you mean a Catholic, and from what I have enjoyed reading of Martens' scripture reflections he is not only a very learned one but very inspiring too. It may be what you are looking for is elsewhere - more of a strictly theological Bible study rather than these weekly reflections which give some of us some additional things to pray and ponder over.
William Rydberg
2 years 11 months ago
This is not a private discussion but rather a public one. I have said my piece, but should Dr Martens or others wish to set the record straight around Catherine Green's presumed facts, feel free... Just my opinion...
William Rydberg
2 years 11 months ago
Reply to Catherine Green: You say you are a co-religionist. I suggest that you refresh yourself through looking at our Catechism. Or if you are historically inclined, the History of the Council of Ephesus (431). Read Vatican II, all the recent Popes on Our Lady, or even check out the Orthodox Church explanation of Theotokos since they also accept the Council. Or Google it. Lot's of resources available. Pax et bonum this Christmastime. This 4th day of Christmas in the Octave...

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