Why can Catholics call Mary the 'Mother of God' but not say that 'God died on the cross'

Hello. I am struggling to understand why Mary has the title ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos), because I have read that it is not proper to say that ‘God died on the cross’.

Just to make clear, I am a Catholic who believes everything the church teaches, including the truth of the title ‘Theotokos’ and the impassibility of the divine nature. I am merely seeking understanding on these points.

Here is where the difficulty in my understanding lays.

The title Theotokos is often explained in terms of the following syllogism:

P1Mary was the mother of Jesus
P2Jesus was God
C Mary was the mother of God

I would be happy with this explanation, but for it being the case that, as far as I can tell, some things can only be predicated of one of Jesus’ natures only. The main example that comes to mind is that I have read that it is improper to write that God died on the cross. However, a similar syllogism could be constructed to argue that

P1 Jesus died on the cross
P2 Jesus was God
C God died on the cross

What is the crucial difference between these cases? Is the second syllogism untrue, or is it merely inadvisable to say?

I believe that Mary carried both the human and divine natures in her womb from the start of the conception, but this still does not seem to resolve the apparent difficulties for me.

Thank you. Peace.

The problem with your question is that:

We DO say that God died on the cross. It is completely proper and fully orthodox. In fact, it can be heretical to deny this proposition.

There is no difference. By the same logic with which we affirm the truth that Mary is the Mother of God, and by the communication of idioms, “God died” is exactly what we profess because the Person who died is a divine person.

Of course, the precision is in what nature did Jesus die. The orthodox answer is “in his human nature”. But it does not detract from the truth that God indeed died on the cross. The rules of the communication of idioms specify that what can be concretely ascribed to one nature can be ascribed to the Person.

Can you provide an authority please

Why, my answer not good enough for you?

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma; p. 160ff.

I think I should have demanded your source first, the one that claimed “God died” is somehow wrong.

Please tell us where.

It is completely Orthodox and common to say God died on the cross. Because he did. So, I’m not sure what Catholic source you’ve read that says this is heterodox.

Your second one isn’t actually a syllogism.

Okay. Thanks. Fair enough. I must have either misread, or else my source was wrong.

There are also well-meaning Catholics who might not know all the answers to their faith very well. I once made that very denial “God did not die on the cross” before I fully came back to the Church :eek:

And I’m of course still learning.

I believe it was Sacramentum Mundi, the encyclopedia edited by Karl Rahner. There is the possibility that I misread it though. It was about a year ago

Sacramentum Mundi, edited by Karl Rahner. I probably just misread it though to be honest. It was over a year ago. Anyway, thanks everybody. I think I understand now :slight_smile:

The Catholic Encyclopedia does say this:

“Certain expressions, though correct in themselves, are for extrinsic reasons, inadmissible; the statement “One of the Trinity was crucified” was misapplied in a Monophysite sense and was therefore forbidden by Pope Hormisdas; the Arians misinterpreted the words “Christ is a creature”; both Arians and Nestorians misused the expressions “Christ had a beginning” and “Christ is less than the Father” or “less than God”; the Docetists abused the terms “incorporeal” and “impassible”.”

Maybe that was what Sacramentum Mundi was trying to get at.

As others have said, you can say “God died on the cross.”

Read up on the communication of idioms. There is a long theological tradition on this.


Death is the separation of the human body from the human soul. Jesus experienced a violent death in which his human body and soul were separated. But the Person who experienced that death was the Second Person of the Trinity, who is God. So yes, we can say that God died on the cross.

Google “communicatio idiomatum.”

God in Himself cannot die. And so it is right to say that the Divine Person of the Son in Himself did not die. But we can really predicate of the Son what is predicated of the human nature He took, because He indeed took it really. The distinction stands, however.

Persons die, not natures. When a human being dies, we say “John X. died yesterday,” referring to the person who died. The person who died on the cross was the 2nd Person of the Trinity. Jesus, who is the Divine Word, died on the cross.

That doesn’t mean that his divine nature ceased to exist, or even that his human soul ceased to exist. He died in the same way that we will all die, our souls being separated from our bodies.

Living things die. The body and soul of Christ, which were split at His death, are distinguished from His Person.

It is incorrect to say that the Divine Person died “in se,” and it is only with caution that we may assert that “God died,” “the Son of God died,” etc., with respect to the context of the Incarnation.

You are wrong. And you are wrong because you seem to insist on using a secular, and anti-religious definitions of what death and Person-hood means. Please go back and study the preceding posts.

Death does not mean to go into non-existence. As already stated,
Death means to have ones soul separated from one’s body.

Since you seem to refuse correction, you also should cite your sources.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 467 The Monophysites affirmed that the human nature had ceased to exist as such in Christ when the divine person of God’s Son assumed it. Faced with this heresy, the fourth ecumenical council, at Chalcedon in 451, confessed:
Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ
: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, **composed of rational soul and body; **consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; “like us in all things but sin”. His Body and Soul are He. They cannot be distinguished from His Person.
(Although, a person can distinguish His existence before He assumed a human body.)

God’s peace,
I hope this helps.

The Nestorian heretics did try to distinguish the body from the person.
I post the link below not wanting to cite myself as an authority. LOL, but for others who want to learn more about **Nestorianism



Hi John,

It seems you have misunderstood my post and cast me as a Nestorian, which I am not. I am not saying “two Persons” or “two beings” but rather one being with two distinct natures (contra Eutyches, etc.), among which there are distinctions to be made, just like there are in any human being, with the addition of His Personhood not arising directly from His humanity (as it does with us). This is quite standard Christology.

God “in se” cannot die, as the Divine Essence is essentially Life. This is also very clear.

Here are some resources:




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