Defending Mary as Theotokos

My husband and I have a Protestant friend who has a problem with Mary (no surprise there). However, when we were discussing her title as Theotokos (God bearer or Mother of God for those whose Greek is sketchy), he brought up a question that we do not know how to answer. He said that while during either of their lives, it may have been appropriate to call her that, it is now inappropriate as they are both in Heaven. He then quoted the passage where Jesus states that people neither marry nor are given in marriage in heaven and claims that it means that there is no family in heaven, so saying Mother of God is inappropriate. He does not deny that Christ is God or that Mary bore him, simply that there is no family in heaven and thus now, in Heaven, Mary cannot be the Mother of God. How can I defend this doctrine to him?

We don’t lose our identities in heaven. The marriage thing means the sacrament is no longer and that the members of the Church are united with Christ the head, the bridegroom. Your friend is trying to make Christ divisible. If your friend accepts that Christ’s divinity and humanity are inseparable and entire, then I would suggest sticking to that point. The early Church hashed this out in the first few centuries. Ultimately, it was confirmation of Christ’s nature as fully God and fully man, which was declared vs. the Arians at Nicea and Constantinople in the 4th century. That led to Mary’s declaration as Theotokos in the 5th century at Ephesus. To deprive Mary of that title is to deny the divinity of the Son who indeed is God dwelling among us.

Assuming his own mother has died or will die before him, how does/will will he refer to her as?


He assumes that he will greet her as a brother/sister in Christ, like everyone else in heaven.

No, I think the question was more along the lines of how he would refer to his own mother upon her death, even if HE is still alive. Will he continue to call her his mother? If so, why? If not, what would he call her?

First, as you noted, “Theotokos” doesn’t literally mean “Mother of God”–it is rather, a loose translation born of reverence. Theotokos–“God (Theo) Bearer (tokos)”–“bearer of God”–because Mary bore the Word of God (John 1:1) inside her, as the Ark of the Covenant bore the Word of God, via the tablets holding the 10 commandments, in it.

So the bottom line here, is that regardless of where Mary and Christ are (Heaven), we’re still here–we still show reverence to both, and relate to them, according to their legacy and memory on earth (not to the exclusion of their Heavenly existence, but the latter doesn’t serve to exclude the former either);

Secondly, I’d ask rhetorically, how does he pretend to know what Heaven is like? What we will be like in Heaven? What is ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ according to the Heavenly order?

His biblical reference is pretty vague on this point–hence it appears to be HIS interpretation of that particular biblical verse (note the underlined portion of your quote above).

Note further that his point might be compelling in terms of the ‘spousal relationship’ attributed by Sacred Tradition to the Holy Spirit with Mary, but it is his interpretation that seeks to apply it to familial relationships.

…I’d also show him several quotes from the Church Fathers, addressing Mary as Mother of God, even prior to the Counsel of Ephesus–e.g.:

"After this, we receive the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the first-fruits; Who bore a Body, in truth, not in semblance, derived from Mary the mother of God (59) in the fulness of time sojourning among the race, for the remission of sins: who was crucified and died, yet for all this suffered no diminution of His Godhead."
Alexander of Alexandria,Epistle to Alexander,12(A.D. 324),in NPNF2,III:40

“And the Angel on his appearance, himself confesses that he has been sent by his Lord; as Gabriel confessed in the case of Zacharias, and also in the case of Mary, bearer of God.”
Athanasius,Orations III,14(A.D. 362),in NPNF2,IV:401

“Many, my beloved, are the true testimonies concerning Christ. The Father bears witness from heaven of His Son: the Holy Ghost bears witness, descending bodily in likeness of a dove: the Archangel Gabriel bears witness, bringing good tidings to Mary: the Virgin Mother of God bears witness: the blessed place of the manger bears witness.”
Cyril of Jerusalem,Catechetical Lectures,X:19(c.A.D. 350),in NPNF2,VII:62

If anyone does not believe that Holy Mary is the Mother of God, he is severed from the Godhead.”
Gregory of Nazianzus,To Cledonius,101(A.D. 382),in NPNF2,VII:439

“Just as, in the age of Mary the mother of God, he who had reigned from Adam to her time found, when he came to her and dashed his forces against the fruit of her virginity as against a rock, that he was shattered to pieces upon her, so in every soul which passes through this life in the flesh under the protection of virginity, the strength of death is in a manner broken and annulled, for he does not find the places upon which he may fix his sting.”
Gregory of Nyssa,On Virginity,14 (A.D. 370),in NPNF2,V:359-360

He reshaped man to perfection in Himself, from Mary the Mother of God through the Holy Spirit.”
Epiphanius,The man well-anchored,75 (A.D. 374),in JUR,II:70


*“Let, then, the life of Mary be as it were virginity itself, set forth in a likeness, from which, as from a mirror, the appearance of chastity and the form of virtue is reflected. From this you may take your pattern of life, showing, as an example, the clear rules of virtue: what you have to correct, to effect, and to hold fast. The first thing which kindles ardour in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of God?”
Ambrose,Virginity,II:6 (c.A.D. 378),in NPNF2,X:374

"To the question: ‘Is Mary the bearer of Man, or the bearer of God?’ we must answer: ‘Of Both’ "
Theodore of Mopsuestia,The Incarnation,15 (ante A.D. 428),in TLCF,168

“AND so you say, O heretic, whoever you may be, who deny that God was born of the Virgin, that Mary the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ ought not to be called Theotocos, i.e., Mother of God, but Christotocos, i.e., only the Mother of Christ, not of God*. For no one, you say, brings forth what is anterior in time. And of this utterly foolish argument whereby you think that the birth of God can be understood by carnal minds, and fancy that the mystery of His Majesty can be accounted for by human reasoning, we will, if God permits, say something later on. In the meanwhile we will now prove by Divine testimonies that Christ is God, and that Mary is the Mother of God.”
John Cassian,The Incarnation of Christ,II:2 (A.D. 430),in NPNF2,XI:556

"But since the Holy Virgin brought forth after the flesh God personally united to the flesh, for this reason we say of her that she is Theotokos, not as though the nature of the Word had its beginning of being from the flesh, for he was in the beginning, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God…but, as we said before, because having personally united man’s nature to himself…"
Cyril of Alexandria,To Nestorius,Epistle 17:11 (A.D. 430),in CCC,306

…and Council of Ephesus itself:

"If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, ‘The Word was made flesh’: let him be anathema."
Council of Ephesus,Anathemas Against Nestorius,I (A.D. 430),in NPNF2,XIV:206


Thank you, I believe that I can start to get some traction with all those quotes from the Fathers of the Church, at least, I hope so. Thanks again.

:thumbsup: My pleasure…and good luck.

Hmm… so then, that would imply that Jesus, who is now in heaven, is no longer the Son of God, since family relationships are dissolved in heaven? :hmmm: :wink:

While it’s true that marital relationships do not exist in eternity, blood or family relationships do. See Jesus’ parable about Lazarus and the rich man: the rich man still has blood relationships to his brothers, whom he wishes to warn about hell. He doesn’t ask for a warning for “those guys who I used to be related to, but aren’t any longer”; rather, he asks for a warning to be given to his brothers. :wink:

:thumbsup: Excellent points!

:thumbsup: Yes. this was my question

George W Bush is no longer President of the United States but we call him Mr. President.


If Mary is not the Mother of God, she did not bare God in her womb but a mere man. Since she did in fact give birth to God, she is the Mother of God.

The Church has always taught that Christ is eternally begotten of the Father as God and begotten in his humanity of the Virgin Mary in the days of Caesar Augustus. However, if Mary is not the Mother of God, this means that the man, Jesus, is a different person from God the Son. This divides Christ into two persons, one divine and the other human. This is the heresy of Nestorianism.

God is eternally present at ALL time. All time is eternally present to Him. There is no moment of time where He is not, and no moment of time that is not always present to Him. So separating Mary from being His mother is impossible, as He is always present at His birth. Same with His sacrifice on the cross that is being eternally offered to the Father in Heaven, as we see in Revelation.

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