God nursed at Mary’s breast

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Mary, Mother of God.

For most Catholics, the words “Mother of God” trip off the tongue, without thought. But this was not always so.

Nursing Mother of God

In the fifth century Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, claimed that Jesus was two persons – divine and human – and that it was not right to call Mary the mother of God, the Theotokos, but she was the mother of Christ, the Christotokos. It would thus be offensive to him to say that God was nursed at his mother’s breast.

But at the Council of Ephesus in 431, Mary was proclaimed the Θεοτοκος, the bearer of God.

God did not play at being human; in Jesus God became flesh, like us (in all but sin). He suffered, he cried; he enjoyed the company of friends and he ate with others. He was fully human, as well as fully God. His was not a split personality – but an integration of human and divine.  As Galatians 4:4 puts it: “God sent his Son, born of a woman.”

Thus, for us holiness is to be lived out in the ordinary things of our daily human lives. How we respond to our families and friends, how we carry out our daily labors, how we love family, friends, and enemies – that’s how we let God’s holiness take hold of our lives.

On this first day of the year many of us make resolutions, proposals on how we will change our lives.

But the first, most important change ought to be something very simple, yet often so difficult: be attentive to God in the ordinary things of our daily lives.

There we may encounter God, who will make us holy.


The image of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus is on the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is, according to Richard McBrien in Lives of the Saints, the oldest church dedicated to Mary in Rome. It is also the “station” church for today.

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