Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker

5/11/2011 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Mary's title of Mother of God insures Christ's true place as the unique Son of God and Son of Man

Worship of Jesus Christ as 'God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father' is therefore a unity with prayerful devotion to his mother. With her and through her we affirm and bow before the one who is God made man. Those who deny Marian devotion sometimes sincerely object because they believe devotion to Mary detracts from proper worship of her Son. But this is to misunderstand the Church's teaching and practice.

Icon of Mary, the Mother of God

Icon of Mary, the Mother of God


By Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Catholic Online (

5/11/2011 (4 years ago)

Published in Christian Saints & Heroes

Keywords: Mary, Theotokos, Hail Mary, Nicea, converts, Fr Dwight Longenecker

GREENVILLE, SC (Catholic Online) - I have long recognised the unique vocation of Our Lady, called to the highest honour among all created beings. It is a fact of history that, if true honour is not paid to her as the Mother of God, people put our Lord in her place as the highest of creation rather than adoring him as God Incarnate. (Rt Rev Mgr Graham Leonard from The Path to Rome)

The former Anglican Bishop of London Graham Leonard summed up the reasoning for the church's most ancient title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Put simply,  Mary's title of Mother of God insures Christ's true place as the unique Son of God and Son of Man.

The title Mother of God in Greek is theotokos which literally means God-bearer. It is the title used by the Greek fathers from Origen in the early third century, and some even think it can be traced to Hippolytus who died in the year 236.  This term for the Virgin Mary was used increasingly by the early Church, but in the early fifth century it was attacked by the heretic Nestorius, who wanted to replace the term theotokos with Christotokos or 'Christ-bearer.' Nestorius, in a sincere attempt to avoid an earlier heresy called Apollinarianism, asserted that there were two separate persons conjoined in Jesus Christ. Thus the Blessed Virgin Mary in giving Jesus human flesh could be the 'Christ-bearer' but not 'God bearer.'

Nestorius was opposed by St Cyril of Alexandria and the controversy was referred to a Council of Rome in the year 430. Pope Celestine condemned Nestorius' teaching, and in the meantime the emperor arranged a General Council to meet at Ephesus. It met in the summer of 431 and condemned Nestorius and therefore re-affirmed the already ancient title theotokos. What is clear from the controversy surrounding Nestorius is that the title theotokos is not primarily an exaltation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but a defense of orthodox Christology. The Council of Ephesus upheld a fully orthodox view of Jesus, and to do this they re-affirmed the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary which supported the fullest understanding of Christ's divinity.

Just twenty years after the Council of Ephesus another council was held, this time in the city of Chalcedon. On 8 October 451 the council opened and dealt with another heresy called Eutychianism. As a result of the council the Definition of Chalcedon was drawn up. This definition re-affirmed the basic definition of Christ's divinity given at the Council of Nicea in 325. It expressly repudiated those who deny the title theotokos for the Blessed Virgin Mary and went on to re-assert the orthodox position that Our Lord was 'One Person in Two Natures which are united unconfusedly, unchangeably indivisibly inseparably'.

I have gone into a bit of detail about the events of the fifth century for a specific reason. One of the things which draws all Christians together is the fact that all who call themselves orthodox look to these first councils of the church for their definition of true belief about the united manhood and divinity of Jesus Christ. The Definition of Chalcedon, based on the earlier definitions of Ephesus and Nicea, is looked to as a test of orthodoxy not only amongst the Catholic Church and most of the Eastern Churches, but also amongst Protestant believers. However, if Protestants claim that their orthodoxy stems from these early councils, there is a problem.

The Council of Ephesus specifically upheld the title of theotokos  for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Council of Chalcedon expressly repudiated those who would deny Mary that title. Therefore, those modern day Christians who deny Mary the title of theotokos are actually condemned by the very councils they look to for support. One might argue that the title theotokos was affirmed by the councils as a separate measure, but it wasn't. It was affirmed as an integral part of their defense of orthodox Christology.

The historical record shows that devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God developed at the same time that the orthodox understanding of Jesus as the God-Man. Graham Leonard's pithy statement explains why the two beliefs developed together. As Jesus came to be understood as God incarnate it became clear that Mary, as his human mother, must have been specially preserved from sin by God. This special purity made her the highest of created beings. Devotion to her was therefore totally intertwined with submission and obedience to her Son, the incarnate God.

This unity of man and woman is hinted at in the Scriptures' doctrine of marriage. From Genesis through to the teachings of Our Lord in the gospels and the teachings of St Paul, man and woman are said to be 'one flesh'. In I Corinthians Paul re-affirms the unity that exists between man and woman. 'For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (I Cor. 11:8-12) In the divine economy man and woman are interdependent and in the mystery of the redemption God chose for both Jesus and his mother to play interdependent roles.

There are some non-Catholics who would therefore grant Mary the title of theotokos for theological reasons, but they still do not practice any form of Marian devotion. This is illogical and truncated because in every other aspect of our faith our worship, devotion and adoration are inspired and united to the doctrines we profess. How can one grant Mary the title 'Mother of God' and yet refrain from using the ancient prayer in which we say, 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and in the hour of our death'?

Worship of Jesus Christ as 'God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father' is therefore a unity with prayerful devotion to his mother. With her and through her we affirm and bow before the one who is God made man. Those who deny Marian devotion sometimes sincerely object because they believe devotion to Mary detracts from proper worship of her Son. But this is to misunderstand the Church's teaching and practice.

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is constantly united with the worship of her Son. 'Woman is not independent of man nor man of woman.' (I Cor. 11:11) This unity of belief and practice cannot be separated, and just as the early church taught, those who deny that Mary is theotokos also impugn the true divinity of her Son-even if they are sincerely unaware that they are doing so.

The famous Catholic convert Kimberly Hahn has said, 'There are three things that keep evangelicals away from the Catholic Church-Mary, Mary and Mary.' While it is true that evangelicals do have a strong resistance to Marian devotion, Catholics should not apologise or back away from the issue. Instead it should be shown that devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has been an integral part of orthodox Christianity from the very earliest days of the Church.

It should be pointed out that the early Church fathers actually considered a proper view of Christ to be dependent on the proper understanding of Mary's identity. Furthermore, those who object to Catholic practice should be reminded that the vast majority of Christians down through the ages and around the world today incorporate the Marian dimension into their Christian lives in a daily loving devotion. Most importantly, it should be stressed that devotion to Mary is not something different than their already keen love for Christ; instead devotion to the Mother of God is a fuller experience of His everlasting love.


Fr.Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, and chaplain to St Joseph's Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his website at


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.


More Christian Saints & Heroes

Jennifer Hartline: Trying to Learn Humility From St. Therese Watch

Image of St. Therese of Lisieux

By Jennifer Hartline

St. Therese helps me understand: "the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy.if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the ... continue reading

Saints and Heroes of the Faith: Fr Dwight Longenecker On The Day I Met St Therese Watch

Image of St. Therese

By Fr. Dwight Longenecker

I was an Anglican priest the summer I met St Therese of Lisieux. I was living in England and had three months free between jobs, so I decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I was going to hitch hike and stay in monasteries and religious houses on the way. ... continue reading

Vocation to Love. Memorial of Saint Theresa of The Child Jesus, Virgin

Image of St. Theresa died on September 30, 1897. As a result of her sanctity and the many miracles which were accounted to her intercession, the cause for her canonization was introduced only seventeen years later.

By F. K. Bartels

The Little Flower of Jesus sacrificed her life for love of souls. She saw the magnitude of her Beloved's love for them. She offered herself for the building up of the Church, the People of God and the Mystical Body of Christ. That is truly a ... continue reading

A Promise to God: St. Michael the Archangel, Defend Us in Battle Watch

Image of Michael is also represented in icons as standing on a horizontal body and with his left arm held high, holding a small image of a

By Youngsun Jun

Though I am not strong enough to hold the suffering souls in my arms and carry them home, I can do one thing: I can pray for the deliverance of the souls who are in the darkness. I can request help from the angels for them. I can make a 911 call for them. So again, I ... continue reading

Prayer to St. Junipero Serra: 'Help me deliver the light of Christ...'

Image of Saint Junipero Serra, pray for us!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Saint Junipero Serra, pray for us! Saint Junipero Serra, your missionary zeal brought the light of Christ to millions. You endured so many hardships, and labored so much that your work resonates today in the hearts of hundreds of millions of Catholics. Saint Serra, I ... continue reading

The Life of Ignatius of Loyola Challenges All of Us to Become Saints Watch

Image of On July 31st we remember the founder of the Company or Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Ignatius of Loyola. He is the patron saint of soldiers and of retreatants. There is a connection. He was a soldier and the Spiritual Exercise which he left us have been used for hundreds of years to help men and women like us encounter Jesus Christ, on retreats, and in our daily lives. The disciplines they promote can help us to grow in holiness of life, no matter what our state in life, and equip us for service in the Army of the King, Jesus Christ.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Over the centuries, the Jesuits have been relied upon by Popes as trustworthy, heroic soldiers for Jesus Christ and His Church. Yes, there have been times when the company seemed to lose its fervor. However, Jesus Christ the King has always sent His Spirit to ... continue reading

St. Bonaventure Points us to St Francis and the Lord Jesus Christ Watch

Image of Bonaventure was a friend and a disciple of Francis. When he looked at Francis he saw Jesus Christ. Bonaventure, like his friend Francis, was also a mystic. To him the Spirit of Francis is the Spirit of Jesus and

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

On July 15th in the Liturgical Calendar of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, we commemorate the life, holiness, work and death of a great Bishop and Doctor named Bonaventure. He was born in 1218, became a Franciscan Friar in 1243, and died in 1274. A friend ... continue reading

A Patron Saint for California Watch

Image of Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the heroic 'Apostle of California.' in September 2015.

By Justin Soutar

During his visit to the United States this coming September, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the heroic 'Apostle of California.' Once that happens, the Golden State will have its own patron saint and the Church will have another great missionary role ... continue reading

Lessons From Saint Joseph The Carpenter

Image of Author Alex Basile serves as the Religion Department Chairman at Kellenberg Memorial High School and has written nine books for Saint Pauls Alba House.(

By Alex Basile

Every carpenter must practice patience. We can learn important lessons from the wood shop in Nazareth from the humble Saint Joseph. I have always been a "do it yourself" type of guy thanks to my father. My dad is always a steady presence during my home-improvement ... continue reading

Learning from St Irenaeus How to Know God Watch

Image of Irenaeus of Lyon wrote these words - The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason, God-who cannot be grasped, comprehended, or seen-allows Himself to be seen, comprehended, and grasped by men, that He may give life to those who see and receive Him. It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy His goodness.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

This great defender of the faith insisted on the central claim of Christianity: God can be known and loved-indeed, that is why He came into our midst in the person of His Son; so that through a  relationship with Jesus Christ, man could participate in the ... continue reading

All Christian Saints & Heroes News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Prayer For Courage HD Video
  • BIGGER THAN ISIS - There's a hidden power behind ISIS and it's so big ...
  • Daily Readings for Thursday, November 26, 2015
  • Your Daily Inspirational Meme: Thanksgiving blessings
  • St. John Berchmans: Saint of the Day for Thursday, November 26, 2015
  • UPDATE: Did the U.S. military actually know they were bombing the ...
  • The Miracle Prayer HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Daniel 6:12-28
12 These men came along in a body and found Daniel praying and pleading ... Read More

Psalm, Daniel 3:68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74
68 Bless the Lord, dew and snow-storm, praise and glorify him for ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:20-28
20 'When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you must realise ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 26th, 2015 Image

St. John Berchmans
November 26: Eldest son of a shoemaker, John was born at ... Read More