Today, the Feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major (Our Lady of the Snows), we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in a particular way under the title “The Mother of God” or “Theotokos”. This term, which has spread throughout the world and is particularly central to the “Hail Mary” prayer, was once a point of great debate in the Church. While all accepted that Mary was the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of Christ, some felt that the Church went too far in calling her the Mother of God. If we compare this title to another which might at first seem identical – “The Mother of Divinity” – we will quickly understand the theological significance of Mary’s motherhood and the proper meaning of her most cherished title, “Mother of God”.
Is Mary the “Mother of God”?
If we look to Summa Theologia III, q.35, a.4 – Whether the Blessed Virgin should be called the Mother of God? – we see that what is really at stake in this Marian title is the truth of the union of Divinity and Humanity in the single Person of Jesus Christ.
First, St. Thomas reminds us that “every word that signifies a nature in the concrete can stand for any hypostasis of that nature.” Thus, the word God can refer to either the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, or all three together. Likewise, words like Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Father (in the sense of Creator), All-powerful, Love, Goodness, Subsisting Existence, etc. all refer to each Person of the Trinity and to all of them together.
Precisely because God refers not only to the Divine Essence or simply to one Person, but to all of them individually and together, we can say in the Creed, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” Both the Father and the Son are rightly called God, Light, and true God.
Up to this point, St. Thomas has shown that the Word is rightly called God, now he will show that those things which are said of Jesus Christ according to his human nature are rightly attributed to his Divine Person.
All that the Word has done, God has done. Thus, we do not only say that “the Word became flesh,” but we also say that “God is with us.” Since the Word became man, Jesus is the God-Man. As we know, in Jesus there are two natures (human and divine) united in one Person (divine). Therefore, all that he does, he does according to either his human or divine nature, but the Person remains the same: he is always the Word, God the Son born from God the Father. So, when Christ died on the Cross, he died in his humanity, but it was truly God who died – God the Son died as a man. Likewise, those who killed him, killed him in his humanity, but it was truly God whom they killed – they crucified God the Son in his humanity.
Therefore, since all that the Word does through his human nature is still properly attributed to the divine Person, when Jesus was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary in his humanity, it is truly said that God was conceived and born of a woman. Therefore, Mary is the true Mother of Christ and also the true Mother of God, insofar as she is the Mother of the Word in his human nature.
Can Mary be called the “Mother of the Divinity”?
Recall that St. Thomas had said that “every word that signifies a nature in the concrete can stand for any hypostasis of that nature.” Words like God, Light, and Creator, all signify the Divine Nature in the concrete – we can say “God so loved the world,” and “The Light shone in the darkness,” and “The Creator of heaven and earth” – but words like Divinity, Godhead, Divine Essence, and Divine Nature do not signify the Divine Nature in the concrete. Rather, these words speak of the Divine Nature in the abstract. Therefore, we cannot say that the Divinity begot the Divinity (whereas we do say that God begot God), we cannot say that the Godhead became incarnate (but we do say that God became incarnate).
As we apply this to the life of Christ, we see that we cannot say that the Godhead died or rose from the dead or was born. It was not the Divine Nature itself, but the second Person, who died and rose from the dead and was born.
Thus, it becomes clear that Mary cannot be called the “Mother of the Divinity” or the “Mother of the Godhead”. She is Mother of her Creator and Redeemer, she is the Mother of God, she is the Mother of the Word and Mother of the Son, but she is not Mother of the Divine Essence or Mother of the Divinity.
Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us!