Mary the "Divine Mother"?


Why does St. Alphonsus Liguori call Mary the “Divine Mother” in The Glories of Mary? I’m not aware if this is part of the Tradition of the Church and I haven’t encountered any other Catholic who called her that way. No other saint or Father or Doctor of the Church I know of called her the “Divine Mother.” Isn’t this quite erroneous, if not totally misleading, because it seems as if he’s treating her as a goddess, when she clearly isn’t?

I tried to simply think of it as him simply meaning that Mary is the Mother of her Divine Son, or Mother of God. But that seems a far cry from “Divine Mother,” which sounds like a pagan title that’s quite un-Catholic. This isn’t one of her titles, is it? So is St. Alphonsus Liguori wrong?

Here is a recent email debate: Dave Armstrong vs anti-Catholic Len Lisenbee
St. Alphonsus de Liguori: Mary-Worshiper & Idolater?
I think you will find it helpful.

Ave Maria by Celine Dion

How about when in certain Eastern liturgies they say something like:

“Holy Theotokos, save us.”?

Is this not Mary worship?

Ps: I like Eastern Catholic and Orthodox liturgies, I watch them online frequently, but this is a bothering issue.

Remember Mary’s words at the Wedding of Cana when trying to understand any of our titles for her: “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary always points to Jesus. When we use the word Theotokos, or Mary the Divine Mother etc, we are not elevating her to a goddess, we are pointing to who Christ is. Just like Priest is not a title of honor for the most part, but a title of service. So is a title for Mary, a title that points to who she brought into the world with her Fiat.

This may be simply a matter of translation, or a word having more than one meaning. It is possible to translate God (noun) as the adjective “divine.” It can mean that Mary is God and a mother, or that she was the mother of God. It is not culturally common here, but we could speak of, say Barbra Bush, as the presidential mother, even though she was not president.

I think what St. Alphonsus is saying is that she is the Mother of the Divine, not that she herself is divine. Kind of like the Queen Mother. Yes, she has some power, but she’s not actually “queen”. That’s how I understand it, anyway.

You are on the beach. You see someone drowning. You call the lifeguard’s attention. The lifeguard quickly swims over and rescues the man.

Who saved him from drowning?

Don’t want to be pushy, but you might check out .

I can answer!! Raises hand!!
The lifeguard and you because you called the lifeguard.

Just a thought… In the Bible, people in public office, such as judges, were sometimes referred to as gods (see John 10:34), not in an absolute sense of the word but in a relative sense, indicating that their authority was from God. Perhaps St Liguori was also using the word *divine *in a relative sense, indicating that Mary’s maternal authority is from God, that God has appointed her to be our spiritual mother.


The lifeguard saved the man. But so did you, since you “interceded” for him.

As for “divine” mother, we have no issues with that. We can also attach the word “divine” to any rational or non-rational creature that had something to do with God. Mary is the divine mother because she is the mother of God. We pray the Divine Office because it is a close encounter with God and the official prayer of the Church. We celebrate Divine Liturgy because in the Eucharist, God is worshipped and made present. The author of Revelation is known as St. John the Divine because of his mystical experiences, and if identified with St. John the Evangelist, his insight into the divine nature of Jesus.

None of these are God, but we describe them as divine because of their intimate association with God.

Think of ‘Divine Mother’ as you would ‘Divine Liturgy’. I both cases Divine is a word that points to divinity. This is different than ‘Divine being’ which would be an atribute of the being.

I looked it up, and the expression used by St. Alphonsus Liguori in the original Italian was indeed “divina madre”. In Italian it’s a little more clear that the expression means “mother of God, Who is divine” rather than “mother who is divine.”

But if people don’t want to get this, I don’t know how you can make them get it.

Italian gets this use of “divina” from a whole class of Latin expressions. Very often, you get saints called “Divus Johannes” or “Divus Hieronymus” or whatever. Before that, you used to get emperors or various other famous Romans called “Divus” this and that.

The expression meant at root “someone touched by the gods/God”, and hence “someone godlike in some fashion.” It was an expression that even in pagan times was almost always used about dead people only. When the various emperors started to accept divine honors, it began to mean “deified.” But when Christianity took it over, it was changed again to mean “someone in heaven with God,” and became just a fancy way of saying “Saint Somebody.” (And of course, today in Italian, a “diva” is not a goddess or a deified person or a saint, but rather, a really good opera soprano.)

It is entirely possible to find an early Christian (like St. Jerome) ranting about pagan gods and polytheism being bad, and then quoting “Divus Matthaeus” or one of the other Gospel writers. Are you going to let this sort of thing shock you, or are you going to figure out what’s being said and read it the way the author meant it?

So the real question is whether normal Christian readers are capable of reading normal Christian prose from other times and places in a sympathetic way, or whether we are going to demand that all Christian writings (and the Holy Bible) be written only in a way that seems normal to 21st century Americans.

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