Theotokos (Greek: Θεοτόκος, transliterated Theotókos) is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and some Protestants use the title Mother of God more often than Theotokos. The Council of Ephesus decreed in 431 that Mary is Theotokos because her son Jesus is one person who is both God and man, divine and human.
Etymology and translation
Theotokos is a compound of two Greek words, Θεός God and τόκος parturition, childbirth. Literally, this translates as God-bearer or the one who gives birth to God; historian Jaroslav Pelikan translated it more precisely as "the one who gives birth to the one who is God". However, since many English-speaking Orthodox find this literal translation awkward, in liturgical use, Theotokos is often left untranslated, or paraphrased as Mother of God. The latter title is the literal translation of a distinct title in Greek, Μήτηρ του Θεού (translit. Mētēr tou Theou). Mother of God also accurately translates the Greek words Θεομήτωρ (translit. Theomētor; also spelled Θεομήτηρ, translit. Theomētēr) and Μητρόθεος (translit. Mētrotheos), which are found in patristic and liturgical texts, e.g.
Λαβομένη η Θεοτόκος των εκ του αχράντου και παναμώμου αυτής θυσιαστηρίου σαρκωθέντα ζωοποιόν και ανέκφραστον άνθρακα ως λαβίδι ... επί τούτοις παρουσιασάμενος ο δίκαιος και τη προτροπή είξας της διακονησαμένης Θεώ προς ανθρώπους Θεομήτορος ... περιφανώς ιερά θεομήτωρ εξετέλει.
In many traditions, Theotokos was translated from the Greek into the local liturgical language:
Language Translation(s) Transliteration Arabic والدة الاله Wālidat Alelah Armenian Աստուածածին Astvadzatzin Bulgarian, Church Slavonic, Macedonian, Russian Богородица Bogoroditsa Coptic Ϯⲑⲉⲟⲧⲟⲕⲟⲥ Ti.Theotokós Georgian ღვთისმშობელი Ghvtismshobeli Latin Deipara
Romanian Născătoare de Dumnezeu
Serbian / Croatian Богородица / Bogorodica
Мајка Божја / Majka Božja
Syriac ܝܳܠܕܰܬ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ Yoldath Aloho Ukrainian Богородиця
^* Translation of the phrase mother of God
Mother of God
The English term Mother of God is mostly used as an imprecise translation of Theotokos, and frequently requires explanation. The other principal use of Mother of God has been as the precise and literal translation of Μήτηρ Θεού, a Greek term which has an established usage of its own in traditional Christian theological writing, hymnography, and iconography. In an abbreviated form ΜΡ ΘΥ it often is found on Eastern icons (see illustration above), where it is used to identify Mary.
A hymn normally sung as part of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom includes both titles in close proximity, in both cases referring to Mary, showing that the titles are not synonymous: "It is truly fitting to call you blessed, the Theotokos, ever-blessed and wholly pure and the Mother of our God (Ἄξιόν ἐστιν ὡς ἀληθῶς μακαρίζειν σὲ τὴν Θεοτόκον, τὴν ἀειμακάριστον καὶ παναμώμητον καὶ μητέρα του Θεοῦ ἡμῶν...", emphasis added.) The difference between the two terms is that the former, Theotokos explicitly refers to physical childbearing, while the latter, Mother of God, describes a family relationship but not necessarily physical childbearing.
Within the Christian tradition, Mother of God has not been understood, nor been intended to be understood, as referring to Mary as Mother of God from eternity — that is, as Mother of God the Father — but only with reference to the birth of Jesus, that is, the Incarnation. This limitation in the meaning of Mother of God must be understood by the person employing the term. To make it explicit, it is sometimes translated Mother of God Incarnate.
However, those reading or hearing the English phrase Mother of God as a translation of a Greek text cannot — unless they know the Greek text in question, or obtain additional information — know whether the phrase is a literal translation of Μήτηρ Θεού or an imprecise rendering of Θεοτόκος or one its Latin equivalents or equivalents in other languages.
Prayers & devotions