Mother of God
The early Church Fathers received and reflected on Paul’s interpretation of the importance of the role of Mary in salvation. St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote a letter to the Ephesians as he was being carried off to Rome to be martyred around the year 100 A.D. In it he says, “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.” St. Ignatius points out not only that Jesus was conceived by Mary, but that this conception was “according to God’s plan.” God’s eternal plan for salvation included Mary as the mother of Jesus Christ.
In the following paragraph, St. Ignatius says “the virginity of Mary, her giving birth, and the death of the Lord are three mysteries to be loudly proclaimed”. Ignatius considered Mary’s virginity and motherhood to be in the same category as the death of out Lord! Why is Mary’s virginity and motherhood so important to St. Ignatius? The salvation worked by Jesus Christ required him to pay an infinite debt on behalf of man, and that requires Him to be true God and true man. Jesus, as God, could pay an infinite debt by His death because He has infinite worth, and Jesus, as a man, could pay that debt on behalf of humanity because He was a true man. But if Mary didn’t conceive virginally, Jesus was not true God, and if Mary wasn’t Jesus’ mother, Jesus was not a true man. Therefore, for humanity to be saved according to God’s plan, Mary must be the Mother of God.
The concept of Mary being the mother of Jesus who was true God and true man carried into the later centuries with the Greek word Θεοτόκος, which means “God-bearer” or “mother of God.” One of its earliest uses was int he prayer dated as early as the middle of the 2nd century, the “Sub Tuum Praesidium” (which is still prayed by Catholics today!):
We fly to thy patronage,
Despise not our petitions in our necessities,
But deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
Great saints, theologians, and bishops continued to use the term. St. Alexander, bishop of Alexandria and a key figure at the Council of Nicaea, wrote in 320 A.D. that Jesus Christ “bore a body not in appearance but in truth, derived from the Mother of God.” And St. Athanasius in 373 A.D. reflected upon “the Word begotten of the Father on high” who “inexpressibly, inexplicably, incomprehensibly and eternally, is he that is born in time here blow, of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.” And the term “Mother of God” became canonized in the doctrinal vocabulary of all Christians at the Council of Ephesus in 431 when it stated that Jesus was “according to his divinity, born of the Father before all ages, and in these last days, according to his humanity, born of the Virgin Mary for us and for our salvation . . . A union was made of the two natures . . . In accord with this understanding of the unconfused union we confess that the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God.”
from: Catholic East Texas