In our fourth-year Christology class, we're just now looking at the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451). One of the things then disputed was the title of Theotokos ("God-bearer, Mother of God") for Mary. The devotional life of the Church embraced it from of old, but could it really be defended?
To some, it seemed theologically dangerous on two counts. It could be taken to imply too small a distinction between Son and Father, as if Mary was the mother of God the Father, not of (or perhaps in addition to) God the Son (this is "Sabellianism" or "Modalism"). And, it could be taken to imply that the Uncreated was not entirely so (this opened the door again to several kinds of Gnosticism).
Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, equivocated, and tried to compromise with the artificial title "Christotokos." But this merely begged the question: was Christ truly God, or not? The great Cyril of Alexandria smashed this half-hearted idea with much vigor, insisting that, if Christ is truly God, then Mary must be called God's mother.
The Council of Ephesus, following Cyril, said this: "For in the first place no common man was born of the holy Virgin, and then the Word thus descended upon him [contra Arianism and Adoptionism]; but being united from the womb itself, he is said to have endured a generation in the flesh in order to appropriate the producing of his own body. [This language would be clarified more at Chalcedon.] Thus [the holy Fathers] did not hesitate to speak of the holy Virgin as the Mother of God (Theotokos)."
When we celebrate the Solemnity of the Theotokos every Octave of the Nativity, we are celebrating not only the special graces and providential Motherhood of our Blessed Mother, and the heaven-opening fidelity of her "Fiat mihi," but also reaffirming our core belief in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, true God eternally begotten of the Father, and true Man born of the Virgin. The very possibility of our salvation comes from his "condescending," in the womb of His holy mother, to take on Himself our weak and fallen human nature. Mary's son is God's Son: one divine person, to whom also is joined the complete human nature, body and soul, taken from Mary in the manner in which all of us take our human nature from our parents.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
May God's most generous blessings and consolations, by the intercession of Mary the Virgin Mother of God, fulfill your every need and desire in the coming new year of grace, the 2011th of our Lord's Incarnation.