The Creed of Chalcedon
…born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood
In this line of the Creed, we have a phrase that Protestants, and especially evangelicals, have historically looked upon with some consternation if not downright disdain, that being the reference to Mary as “mother of God.” I agree that the term is unfortunate in that it is too easily misunderstood. I mean, how can God have a mother? And if God does have a mother, would that not make her God as well, indeed, even a higher God than God—which is ridiculous. Perhaps we need to look at the history behind the term to understand its meaning.
In the fourth century there lived a man named Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople. At that time, Mary was commonly referred to by the Greek word, θεοτοκος, transliterated into English, Theotokos, meaning, “God-bearer.” The term was not about Mary but about her son—that he is God. Hence, she was referred to in the early church as the God-bearer in reference to the divinity of the one she conceived by the Holy Spirit and bore as his mother. Nestorius preferred the term, χριστοτοκος, transliterated into English, Christotokos, meaning, Christ-bearer. Nestorius made this change because he thought Theotokos compromised our Lord’s humanity. However, a council of bishops gathered at Ephesus in 431 thought that Nestorius was compromising our Lord’s divinity and so condemned and deposed him. And so you see, the matter was never about Mary but our Lord and how to refer to him while in Mary’s womb.
These ancient controversies might sound silly to us today but they were matters of life and death then. I have no reservations with calling Mary, Theotokos, or God-bearer, referring to the baby in her womb. I struggle with “mother of God” because that term seems to me to exalt Mary rather that our Lord, which was not what the ancient controversy was about.
But let us not lose sight of what the Creed is saying, that she is “Mother of God, according to the Manhood.” In other words, the Creed is referring to Mary’s providing not for our Lord’s divinity but for his humanity, which indeed she did. The Holy Spirit superintended the process but took from Mary the form and substance of our Lord’s humanity, otherwise our Lord was not a man. So she is indeed his mother according to his humanity. However, as he is one person, the Son of God, then she gave birth to the Son of God, though is only responsible for providing the material for his human nature. And so all generations thereafter have called her blessed.