“Mary is the supreme masterpiece of Almighty God and he has reserved the knowledge and possession of her for himself. She is the glorious Mother of God the Son who chose to humble and conceal her during her lifetime in order to foster her humility. He called her “Woman” as if she were a stranger, although in his heart he esteemed and loved her above all men and angels. Mary is the sealed fountain and the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit where only he may enter. She is the sanctuary and resting-place of the Blessed Trinity where God dwells in greater and more divine splendour than anywhere else in the universe, not excluding his dwelling above the cherubim and seraphim. No creature, however pure, may enter there without being specially privileged.” -Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, True Devotion, #5
When one becomes very devoted to our Lady it is easy to become lost in all the wonderful glories and mysteries of our Lady. We exalt her Immaculate Conception and hail her as Queen of Heaven and Earth, and indeed we do rightly, but we cannot forget her greatest title is not the Immaculata, Queen, Virgin, Ark of the New Covenant, Destroyer of Heresies, or even Co-redemptrix but rather it is her title of Theotokos, which is a Greek word meaning “God bearer” or Mother of God.
It is the Divine Maternity that is the greatest gift and grace of our Lady and from which all others flow. It is a grace so great and awesome that it could not have been merited, for to have done so would be to have merited the Incarnation. It is because our Lady was to be the Mother of God that she was immaculately conceived, never sinned (not even indeliberate venial sin), remained ever a virgin, was the perfect co-operator with our Lord in his work of salvation, and finally was assumed into Heaven body and soul at the end of her earthly life and there to reign is Queen for all eternity.
This is a point that many do not understand, but which is clearly elucidated in the great work by the last great Thomistic Theologian: The Mother of the Saviour and our Interior Lives, by the late Rev. Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.:
“The two truths which stand out like mountain peaks in the chain of revelation concerning Our Blessed Lady, and around which cluster all other truths we hold about her, are her divine maternity and her fullness of grace, both of which are affirmed in the Gospels and in the Councils of the Church.”
Chapter XL: Compendium of Mariology
First Article: The Eminent Dignity Of The Divine Motherhood
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of Christ, and is therefore truly and properly the Mother of God, as defined by the Council of Ephesus. St. Thomas says: “Conception and birth are attributed to the person and hypostasis in respect of that nature in which it is conceived and born. Since, therefore, the human nature was taken by the divine person (of the Word) in the very beginning of the conception, it follows that it can be truly said that God was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary.” Hence she is truly the Mother of God.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was first predestined to this divine motherhood and then as a consequence of this to fullness of glory and grace, so as to be worthy of being the Mother of God. This is sufficiently clear from the bull of Pope Pius IX in which it is said: “The ineffable God from the beginning and from all eternity chose and ordained for His only-begotten Son, a mother from whom His Son took flesh so as to be born in the blessed fullness of time, and pursued her with such great love above all creatures, so as to find the greatest of delight in her.” A little farther on it says: “By one and the same decree [He chose her] along with the Incarnation of divine wisdom.”
In other words, the eternal decree of the Incarnation is not directed toward the quasi-abstract Incarnation, but toward the Incarnation here and now to be brought into being or, so to speak, individualized; that is, it concerns the incarnation of God’s Son from the Virgin Mary, as stated in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan symbol.
Therefore by the same eternal decree Christ as man was predestined to be by nature the Son of God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the Mother of God. But this decree is antecedent to the predestinating decree of men who are to be saved by Christ’s merits, and of whatsoever other human persons to glory and grace. Therefore the Blessed Virgin Mary was predestined to be the Mother of God, as to what was principally intended, prior to being predestined to glory, just as Christ was predestined to be the Son of God by nature, as to what was principally intended, prior to being predestined to glory. That to which anyone is first predestined is called the end, and is nobler than any other things to which a person is afterward predestined. From this it is already apparent that divine motherhood is nobler than fullness of grace and glory, which is a consequence of the former and which accompanies it so as to render the Blessed Virgin worthy of being the Mother of God.
This superiority of divine motherhood is evident also for several other reasons. First, because the Blessed Virgin Mary could indeed merit eternal life, but she could not merit the Incarnation, which is the eminent principle of all Mary’s merits, just as it is of all men after the Fall, and hence she could not merit the divine motherhood, which is closely connected with the Incarnation, and which, like the Incarnation, transcends the sphere of merit. From what has been said it is also apparent that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s predestination is entirely gratuitous.
Secondly, the divine motherhood is a dignity which by reason of its terminus whereunto, namely, the Word incarnate, belongs to the hypostatic order, which transcends the order of grace and glory.
Thirdly, the divine motherhood is the reason for all the graces bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus it is their measure and end, and is therefore of a higher order than these. Such is the common teaching of the theologians.
Fourthly, the divine motherhood is the motive for the cultus of hyperdulia paid to Mary, to which she would not be entitled if she were only full of grace and the highest of all the saints, but not Mother of God.
Fifthly, it follows from this that the divine motherhood is also considered in itself superior to the fullness of grace that was granted to Mary so as to render her worthy of being the Mother of God. So also in the natural order the spiritual soul, even considered in itself, because it belongs to the substantial order, is more perfect than its intellectual faculty, although it is perfected by this latter.
Now, as with all of the teachings of the Church, this doctrine is one that has been passed down and related to the faithful from our Lord through the Apostles and their successors. It was always believed and taught, but as with many teachings there are those who will become confused or think they know better than the church on a particular point of doctrine and thus error and heresy arise in the Church. Not surprisingly the first great heresies were those concerning the our Lord in his Divinity and our Lady in her Divine Maternity, which is simply another indirect attack upon our Lord Himself. And it was around the year 428 that the terrible heresy of Nestorianism broke out in the East. Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori gives us a wonderful retelling of the events of the outbreak of this heresy and its condemnation at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in his great work the History of Heresies, and so here then I give you an excerpt from this work:
The heresy of Pelagius was scarcely condemned by the African Councils, when the Church had to assemble again to oppose the heresy of Nestorius, who had the temerity to impugn the maternity of the Mother of God, calling her the Mother, not of God, but of Christ, who, he blasphemously taught, was a mere man, as, with a similar impiety, Ebion, Paul of Samosata, and Photinus, had done before, by asserting that the Word was not hypostatically united with Christ, but only extrinsically, so that Goddwelled in Christ, as in his temple…
Nestorius was so distinguished for his eloquence, though it was only of a vain and popularity-hunting sort, and his apparent piety, for he was worn, pale, and always poorly clad, that he was placed in the See of Constantinople, in place of Sissinnius, in the year 427, according to Noel Alexander, or 428, according to Hermant and Cardinal Orsi. His elevation, however, was not only legitimate, but highly creditable to him, for after the death of the Patriarch Sisinnius, the Church of Constantinople was split into factions about who should succeed him, which induced the Emperor Theodosius the Younger to put an end to it all, by selecting a Bishop himself; and, that no one should complain of his choice, he summoned Nestorius from Antioch, and had him consecrated Bishop, and his choice was highly pleasing to the people (3). It is said, also, that, at the first sermon he preached (4), he turned round to the Emperor, and thus addressed him: “Give me, my Lord, the earth purged from heretics, and I will give you heaven; exterminate the heretics with me, and I will exterminate the Persians with you.”…
He brought a priest from Antioch with him, of the name of Anastasius, and he, at the instigation of the Bishop; preached one day the blasphemous doctrine that no one should call Mary the Mother of God, because she was only a creature, and it was impossible that a human creature could be the Mother of God. The people ran to Nestorius, to call on him to punish the temerity of the preacher; but he not only approved of what was said, but unblushingly went into the pulpit himself, and publicly defended the doctrine preached by Anastasius. In that sermon, called afterwards by St. Cyril (6), the Compendium of all Blasphemy, he called those Catholics blind and ignorant, who were scandalized by Anastasius preaching, that the Holy Virgin should not be called the Mother of God. The people were most anxiously waiting to hear what the Bishop would say in the pulpit, when, to their astonishment, he cried out : “How can God have a mother? The Gentiles then ought to be excused, who bring forward on the stage the mothers of their Gods; and the Apostle is a liar, when, speaking of the Divinity of Christ, he says that he is without father, without mother, without generation : no, Mary has not brought forth a God. What is born of the flesh is nothing but flesh; what is born of the spirit is spiritual. The creature does not bring forth the Creator, but only a man, the instrument of the Divinity.”
It has always been the plan with heretics, to sustain this error, by accusing the Catholics of heresy. Arius called the Catholics Sabellians, because they professed that the Son was God, like unto the Father. Pelagius called them Manicheans, because they insisted on the necessity of Grace. Eutyches called them Nestorians, because they believed that there were two distinct natures in Christ the Divine and the human nature; and so, in like manner, Nestorius called them Arians and Apollinarists, because they confessed in Christ one Person, true God and true man. When Nestorius thus continued to preach, not alone once, but frequently, and when the whole burthen of his sermons was nothing but a blasphemous attack on the doctrine of the Church, the people of Constantinople became so excited, that, beholding their shepherd turned into a wolf, they threatened to tear him in pieces, and throw him into the sea….
St. Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, hearing of this, and fearing lest the heresy should take root, wrote a letter to all the monks of Egypt (9), in which he instructs them not to intermeddle in such questions at all, and, at the same time, gives them excellent instructions in the true Faith. This letter was taken to Constantinople, and St. Cyril was thanked by several of the magistrates; but Nestorius was highly indignant, and got a person named Photius to answer it, and sought every means to be revenged on St. Cyril.
When this came to the knowledge of the Saint, he wrote to Nestorius (10): “This disturbance,” he says, “did not commence on account of my letter, but on account of writings scattered abroad (whether they are yours or not is another thing), and which have been the cause of so many disorders, that I was obliged to provide a remedy. You have, therefore, no reason to complain of me. You, rather, who have occasioned this disturbance, amend your discourses, and put an end to this universal scandal, and call the Holy Virgin the Mother of God. Be assured, in the meantime, that I am prepared to suffer everything, even imprisonment and death, for the Faith of Jesus Christ.” Nestorius answered, but his reply was only a threatening tirade (11) : ” Experience,” said he, ” will shew what fruit this will produce; for my part, I am full of patience and charity, though you have not practised either towards me, not to speak more harshly to you.” This letter proved to St. Cyril, that nothing more was to be expected from Nestorius, and what followed proved the truth of his conjecture….
When the celebration of Easter was concluded, the Bishops all hastened to Ephesus, where the Council was convoked for the 7th of June. Nestorius, accompanied by a great train, was one of the first to arrive, and, soon after, St. Cyril, accompanied by fifty Egyptian Bishops, arrived, and in a little time two hundred Bishops, most of them Metropolitans and men of great learning, were assembled. There was no doubt about St. Cyril presiding as Vicar of Pope Celestine, in the Council of Ephesus; for, in several acts of the Synod itself, he is entitled President, even after the arrival of the Apostolic Legates, as is manifest from the fourth act of the Council, in which the
Legates are mentioned by name after St. Cyril, and before all the other Bishops. It appears, even from the opening act of the Council, before the arrival of the Legates, that he presided in place of Celestine, as delegate of his Holiness the Archbishop of Rome. Graveson (26), therefore, justly says: ” That they are far from the truth, who deny that Cyril presided at the Council of Ephesus, as Vicar of Pope Celestine.”
St. Cyril, therefore, as President (27), gave notice that the first Session of the Synod would be held on the 22nd of June, in St. Mary’s Church, the principal one of Ephesus, and, on the day before, four Bishops were appointed to wait on Nestorius, and cite him to appear next day at the Council. He answered, that if his presence was necessary, he would have no objection to present himself; but then, in the course of the same day, he forwarded a protest, signed by sixty-eight Bishops, against the opening of the Council, until the arrival of other Bishops who were expected (28). St. Cyril and his colleagues paid no attention to the remonstrance, but assembled the next day.
On the appointed day the Council was opened; the Count Candidianus, sent by Theodosius, endeavoured to put it off, but the Fathers having ascertained that he was sent by the Emperor, solely with authority to keep order and put down disturbance, determined at once to open the Session, and the Count, accordingly, made no further opposition. Before they began, however, they judged it better to cite Nestorius a second and third time, according to the Canons, and sent other Bishops to him in the name of the Council, but they were insulted and maltreated by the soldiers he had with him as a body-guard. The Fathers, therefore, on the day appointed, the 22nd of June, held the first Session, in which, first of all, the second letter of St. Cyril to Nestorius was read, and the answer of Nestorius to St. Cyril, and they all called out immediately, with one accord (29) : ” Whoever does not anathematize Nestorius, let him be anathema. Whoever communicates with Nestorius let him be anathema. The true faith anathematizes him. We anathematize all the letters and dogmas of Nestorius.” St. Celestine’s letter was next read, in which he fulminates a sentence of deposition against Nestorius, unless he retracts in ten days (30).
Finally, the sentence of the Council was pronounced against him: It begins, by quoting the examination, by the Fathers, of his impious doctrines, extracted from his own writings and sermons, and then proceeds: “Obliged by the Sacred Canons, and the Epistle of our Holy Father and Colleague, Celestine, Bishop of the Roman Church, we have been necessarily driven, not without tears, to pronounce this melancholy sentence against him. Therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he has insulted by his blasphemies, deprives him, through this Holy Council, of the Episcopal dignity, and declares him excluded from every Assembly and College of Priests (31).” This sentence was subscribed by one hundred and eighty-eight Bishops. The Session lasted from the morning till dark night (32), though the days were long at that season, the 22nd of June, and the sun did not set in the latitude of Ephesus, till seven o clock in the evening. The people of the city were waiting from morning till night, expecting the decision of the Council, and when they heard that Nestorius was condemned and deposed, and his doctrine prohibited, and that the Holy Virgin was declared to be the Mother of God in reality, they all, with one voice, began to bless the Council and praise God, who cast down the enemy of the Faith, and of his Holy Mother.
When the Bishops left the church, they were accompanied to their lodgings by the people with lighted torches. Women went before them, bearing vases of burning perfume, and a general illumination of the whole city manifested the universal joy (33).
Thus we have this definitive pronouncement from the Holy Council that our Lady is indeed the Mother of God:
”If any one does not confess the Emmanuel (Christ) in truth is God and that on this account the Holy Virgin Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos)–since according to the flesh she brought forth the Word of God made flesh–let him be anathema.”
At the Incarnation our Lady became the first Tabernacle containing the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, and after the Nativity of our Lord she became the first Monstrance carrying our Divine Lord in her arms. All the while Saint Joseph was there devoted to our Lady and worshiping his Son.
We must see that the Divine Motherhood of Mary makes her inseparable from Jesus. We cannot have Him without her, and nor can we have her without Him. To reject Mary is indeed to reject Jesus. For not only is she His mother but so too is she our own heavily mother because He gave her to us. Our Lord reserved for his very last act before giving up His Spirit to the Father the giving of His mother to us via Saint John His beloved disciple:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother’ s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own. (Jn 19:25-27)
“Sometimes I find myself saying to the Holy Virgin: ‘Do you know, O cherished Mother, that I think myself more fortunate than you? I have you for Mother and you have not, like me, the Blessed Virgin to love…You are, it is true, the Mother of Jesus, but you have given Him to me, and He, from the Cross gave you to us as our Mother, so we are richer than you. Of old it was your desire that you might be the little handmaiden of the Mother of God; and I, poor little creature, I am, not your servant, but your child: you are the Mother of Jesus and you are my Mother.” -Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church; XIII Letter to her Sister Celine
“She is more Mother than Queen.” -Ibid; Autobiography: Story of a Soul, Ch. XII
“If anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his Mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother.” -Saint Maximilian Kolbe
“All true children of God have God for their father and Mary for their mother; anyone who does not have Mary for his mother, does not have God for his father. This is why the reprobate, such as heretics and schismatics, who hate, despise or ignore the Blessed Virgin, do not have God for their father though they arrogantly claim they have, because they do not have Mary for their mother. Indeed if they had her for their mother they would love and honour her as good and true children naturally love and honour the mother who gave them life.” -Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, True Devotion, #30
“We confess, then, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and a body, begotten before all ages from the Father in his Godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, one and the same consubstantial with the Father in Godhead and consubstantial with us in humanity, for a union of two natures took place. Therefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the unconfused union, we confess the holy Virgin to be the Mother of God (Theotokos) because God the Word took flesh and became man and from his very conception united to himself the temple he took from her”
It was only recently that the Church, however, has explicitly proclaimed Mary with this title. Our late Holy Father: Blessed Pope John Paul II explains:
1. After proclaiming Mary a “pre-eminent member”, the “type” and “model” of the Church, the Second Vatican Council says: “The Catholic Church, taught by the Holy Spirit, honours her with filial affection and devotion as a most beloved mother” (Lumen gentium, n. 53).To tell the truth, the conciliar text does not explicitly attribute the title “Mother of the Church” to the Blessed Virgin, but it unmistakeably expresses its content by repeating a statement made in 1748, more than two centuries ago, by Pope Benedict XIV (Bullarium Romanum, series 2, t. 2, n. 61, p. 428).In this document my venerable Predecessor, in describing the filial sentiments of the Church, which recognizes Mary as her most beloved mother, indirectly proclaims her Mother of the Church.Title expresses Mary’s maternal relationship with the Church
2. This title was rather rarely used in the past, but has recently become more common in the pronouncements of the Church’s Magisterium and in the devotion of the Christian people. The faithful first called upon Mary with the title “Mother of God”. “Mother of the faithful” or “our Mother”, to emphasize her personal relationship with each of her children.
Later, because of the greater attention paid to the mystery of the Church and to Mary’s relationship to her, the Blessed Virgin began more frequently to be invoked as “Mother of the Church”. Before the Second Vatican Council, this expression was found in Pope Leo XIII’s Magisterium, in which it is affirmed that Mary is “in all truth mother of the Church” (Acta Leonis XIII, 15, 302). The title was later used many times in the teachings of John XXIII and Paul VI.
3. Although the title “Mother of the Church” was only recently attributed to Mary, it expresses the Blessed Virgin’s maternal relationship with the Church as shown already in several New Testament texts.
Since the Annunciation, Mary was called, to give her consent to the coming of the messianic kingdom, which would take place with the formation of the Church.
When at Cana Mary asked the Son to exercise his messianic power, she made a fundamental contribution to implanting the faith in the first community of disciples, and she co-operated in initiating God’s kingdom, which has its “seed” and “beginning” in the Church (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 5).
On Calvary, Mary united herself to the sacrifice of her Son and made her own maternal contribution to the work of salvation, which took the form of labour pains, the birth of the new humanity.
In addressing the words “Woman, behold your son” to Mary, the Crucified One proclaims her motherhood not only in relation to the Apostle John but also to every disciple. The Evangelist himself, by saying that Jesus had to die “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn 11:52), indicates the Church’s birth as the fruit of the redemptive sacrifice with which Mary is maternally associated.
The Evangelist St Luke mentions the presence of Jesus’ Mother in the first community of Jerusalem (Acts 1:14). In this way he stresses Mary’s maternal role in the newborn Church, comparing it to her role in the Redeemer’s birth. The maternal dimension thus becomes a fundamental element of Mary’s relationship with the new People of the redeemed.
4. Following Sacred Scripture, patristic teaching recognizes Mary’s motherhood in the work of Christ and therefore in that of the Church, although in terms which are not always explicit.
According to St Irenaeus, Mary “became a cause of salvation for the whole human race” (Haer. 3, 22, 4; PG 7, 959), and the pure womb of the Virgin “regenerates men in God” (Haer. 4, 33, 11; PG 7, 1080). This is re-echoed by St Ambrose, who says: “A Virgin has begotten the salvation of the world, a Virgin has given life to all things” (Ep. 63, 33; PL 16, 1198), and by other Fathers who call Mary “Mother of salvation” (Severian of Gabala, Or. 6 in mundi creationem, 10, PG 54, 4; Faustus of Riez, Max. Bibl. Patrum, VI. 620-621).
In the Middle Ages, St Anselm addressed Mary in this way: “You are the mother of justification and of the justified, the Mother of reconciliation and of the reconciled, the mother of salvation and of the saved” (Or. 52, 8; PL 158, 957), while other authors attribute to her the titles “Mother of grace” and “Mother of life”.
Pope Paul VI proclaimed Mary ‘Mother of the Church’
5. The title “Mother of the Church” thus reflects the deep conviction of the Christian faithful, who see in Mary not only the mother of the person of Christ, but also of the faithful. She who is recognized as mother of salvation, life and grace, mother of the saved and mother of the living, is rightly proclaimed Mother of the Church.
Pope Paul VI would have liked the Second Vatican Council itself to have proclaimed “Mary Mother of the Church, that is, of the whole People of God, of the faithful and their Pastors”. He did so himself in his speech at the end of the Council’s third session (21 November 1964), also asking that “henceforth the Blessed Virgin be honoured and invoked with this title by all the Christian people” (AAS 1964, 37).
In this way, my venerable Predecessor explicitly enunciated the doctrine contained in chapter eight of Lumen gentium, hoping that the title of Mary, Mother of the Church, would have an ever more important place in the liturgy and piety of the Christian people.
General Audience of Wednesday, 17 September 1997
Weekly Edition in English
24 September 1997, page 11
Memorare, O piissima Virgo Maria, non esse auditum a saeculo, quemquam ad tua currentem praesidia, tua implorantem auxilia, tua petentem suffragia, esse derelictum. Ego tali animatus confidentia, ad te, Virgo Virginum, Mater, curro, ad te venio, coram te gemens peccator assisto. Noli, Mater Verbi, verba mea despicere; sed audi propitia et exaudi. Amen.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
[From the Raccolta, #339 (S. C. Ind., Dec. 11, 1846; S. P. Ap., Sept. 8, 1935) Encr. Ind. #32. For information about Fr. Claude Bernard, see Claude Bernard, dit “le Pauvre Pretre”, Commandeur de Broqua, 12ed, Lethielleux, 1913. De Broqua was the postulator for the cause of Fr. Bernard’s canonization.]