Mater Dei

You may have heard of Svendsen's distinction in Greek between God-bearer and Mother of God, which he says is theotokos and meter theou. I had never heard the expression meter theou ever before--could it be because this expression was made up by Svendsen himself? In the book "Mariology" by Matthias Scheeben, first volume, I find the Greek literal rendering of Mother of God to be "theogennetoo" (pardon my probably faulty transliteration of what I only have as Greek letters in front of me). Do you have anything to say about this?

The origin of the term theotokos was originally suggested by St. Cyril, in answer to the word christotokos used by Nestorius. Theotokos literally means "God-bearer" as opposed to christotokos which means "Christ-bearer." Nestorius denied to Mary the title "Mother of God" (Serm. I, 6, 7, PG xlviii, 760-761).

It is true that neither mater dei in Latin, nor mater theou in Greek, were used by the Church, but I think there is a good reason for this: Nestorius had a different meaning for theotokos than that accepted by the Church under pope Celestine I and the Council of Ephesus. Nestorius did not believe that Mary brought forth the Godhead nor the word of God, but the organ, the temple of the Godhead. He writes: "Ferri tamen potest hoc vocabulum propter ipsum considerationem, quod solum nominetur de virgine hoc verbum hoc propter inseparabile templum Dei Verbi ex ipsa, non quia mater sit Dei Verbi; nemo enim antiquiorem se parit."

The Church used theotokos as meaning the mother of God, as is attested by the patristic witnesses she cites at the Council of Ephesus. The Church did not use mater theou or meter dei, since the issue with Nestorius did not primarily involve Mary; rather, it involved the nature of Christ against the Arians, Apollonarians and Monophysites.

The precise and best term to counter the Nestorian "christotokos" and the Arian...Monophysite conception of Christ was "theotokos," for by this term the Church did double duty: (1) it silenced the Arians, Apollonarians and Monophysites regarding the nature of Christ by showing that Christ was truly God and truly man, and (2) it implicitly understood Mary as the mother of God, not merely mother of Christ. If mater theou or mater dei had been used,the question regarding the precise nature of Christ would not have been specifically answered, and the Nestorian heresy might have survived.

I suppose the Church could add the title mater theou to Mary, but it would be redundant, since theotokos already denotes her divine maternity, and the Church has made that clear.

Regarding theogennetoo by Sheeben, I don't know where he is getting this word, since I've never seen it. I assume he is combining theo ("God") and gennetoo ("begotten, born"), which would literally be "God-begetter." I don't find that term as theologically accurate, since Mary did not bring God into existence, rather, she bore God in her body and delivered Him, although it depends on how the word is being used.

Robert Sungenis
Catholic Apologetics International
July 17, 2001

No comments: