Mary: The Mother of God and Theotokos – God Bearer

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By Sister Janet Ruffing, PhD

Marian devotion has long been part of our Mercy tradition, and we as a community have celebrated Feast of the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God on January 1, and our Marian devotion in different ways in our own history. The Greek word Theotokos means to bear God, as in to bear a child, and was used to refer to Mary as the mother of Jesus. Mary is named Christotokos (Christ-bearer) in 431 by the Council of Ephesus in response to this insight. Mary, of course, is not divinized in this usage, rather it is Mary’s faith that enables her to become the Mother of Jesus. Augustine proposes that her discipleship of Jesus is even more important than to have been the mother of Christ. Although this may seem like stretching the metaphor to us, it is important to recognize that it is referring to men as well as women participating in this relationship with Mary.  

Augustine preached, “we do have the nerve to call ourselves the mother of Christ,” and theologian Elizabeth Johnson explains that “by carrying him in our hearts full of love, we bring forth the Savior into the needy world.”[1]

As we celebrate this Marian Feast Day, we might want to reflect on who Mary is or has become for us. How do we relate to her today? How is each one of us carrying Jesus in our hearts full of love? Under what circumstances — pastoral ministries, contemplative reflection or prayer — do we experience this relationship with Jesus vibrantly alive in us today?

[1] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints. New York: Continuum, 2003, 119.