The Early Church Fathers referred to Mary as the Mother of God. They saw it as a natural consequence of the Incarnation. The title has more to do with Jesus than Mary. It is an affirmation that Jesus was indeed God and not merely human as some had claimed. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth understood this: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, [she] cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:41-43). Filled with the Holy Spirit she refers to Mary as “The mother of my Lord.” Jesus is Lord because He is God. The mother of my Lord is the mother of my God or simply put, the mother of God.
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 [A.D. 189]).
[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 [A.D. 217]).
Gregory the Wonderworker
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 1 [A.D. 262]).
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!" (ibid., 2).
Peter of Alexandria
They came to the church of the most
blessed Mother of God, and ever-virgin Mary, which, as we began to say, he had
constructed in the western quarter, in a suburb, for a cemetery of the martyrs (The
Genuine Acts of Peter of Alexandria [A.D. 305]).
Hail to you forever, you virgin
Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for unto you do I again return. . . . Hail,
you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . Wherefore, we pray you, the most
excellent among women, who boast in the confidence of your maternal honors, that
you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us,
I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate your memory,
which will ever live, and never fade away (Oration on Simeon and Anna 7
Cyril of Jerusalem
The Father bears witness from
heaven to his Son. The Holy Spirit bears witness, coming down bodily in the form
of a dove. The archangel Gabriel bears witness, bringing the good tidings to
Mary. The Virgin Mother of God bears witness (Catechetical Lectures 10:19
Ephraim the Syrian
Though still a virgin she carried a
child in her womb, and the handmaid and work of his wisdom became the Mother of
God (Songs of Praise 1:20 [A.D. 351]).
The Word begotten of the Father
from on high, inexpressibly, inexplicably, incomprehensibly, and eternally, is
he that is born in time here below of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God (The
Incarnation of the Word of God 8 [A.D. 365]).
Epiphanius of Salamis
Being perfect at the side of the
Father and incarnate among us, not in appearance but in truth, he [the Son]
reshaped man to perfection in himself from Mary the Mother of God through the
Holy Spirit (The Man Well-Anchored 75 [A.D. 374]).
Ambrose of Milan
The first thing which kindles ardor
in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of
God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? (The Virgins
2:2 [A.D. 377]).
Gregory of Nazianz
If anyone does not agree that holy
Mary is Mother of God, he is at odds with the Godhead (Letter to Cledonius
the Priest 101 [A.D. 382]).
As to how a virgin became the
Mother of God, he [Rufinus] has full knowledge; as to how he himself was born,
he knows nothing (Against Rufinus 2:10 [A.D. 401]).
Theodore of Mopsuestia
"When, therefore, they ask, ‘Is
Mary mother of man or Mother of God?’ we answer, ‘Both!’ The one by the very
nature of what was done and the other by relation" (The Incarnation 15
Cyril of Alexandria
I have been amazed that some are
utterly in doubt as to whether or not the holy Virgin is able to be called the
Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the holy Virgin
who bore him not be the Mother of God? (Letter to the Monks of Egypt 1
You cannot then help admitting that the grace comes from God. It is God, then, who has given it. But it has been given by our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore the Lord Jesus Christ is God. But if he is God, as he certainly is, then she who bore God is the Mother of God (On the Incarnation of Christ Against Nestorius 2:2 [A.D. 429]).
Council of Ephesus
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]).
Vincent of Lerins
Nestorius, whose disease is of an opposite kind, while pretending that he holds two distinct substances in Christ, brings in of a sudden two persons, and with unheard-of wickedness would have two sons of God, two Christs,—one, God, the other, man; one, begotten of his Father, the other, born of his mother. For which reason he maintains that Saint Mary ought to be called, not the Mother of God, but the Mother of Christ (The Notebooks 12 [A.D. 434]).
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For Further Study
The Mother of God
by Steve Collison
Books - Meet Mary - Getting to Know the Mother of God by Mark Miravalle and Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Fr. Luigi Gambero and Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn
CD - The Gospel Truth About Mary:Vol.1
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