Still posting from a short essay I wrote – enjoy 🙂
We have three Marian dogmas (teachings) in the Catholic Church
a) Her divine motherhood (Theotokos, defined @ the Council of Ephesus in 431)
b) her Immaculate Conception (formally defined in 1854)
c) her bodily assumption into heaven (formally defined in 1950)
Plus one dogma that is not formally defined but still kept:
d) her perpetual virginity (baptismal formulation since the 3rd century)
Now some history & theology 🙂
Mary was declared theotokos (from the Greek; literally "to give birth to God"; usually transliterated as Mother of God) in direct contradistinction to the heresy that denied that Jesus was really God, or that he was fully human and fully divine. It is embedded in the church’s Christological teaching because it helps describe and delineate the nature and person of Christ Jesus – it is not a separate teaching on it’s own.
Regarding "Mother of God", this is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theotokos:
Theotokos is a compound of two Greek words, θεος "God" and τοκος "parturition, childbirth." Literally, this translates as "God-bearer" or "One who gave birth to God." However, since many English-speaking Orthodox find this literal translation is awkward, in liturgical use, "Theotokos" is often retained in Greek or translated as "Mother of God." This last is not precisely synonymous, as it does not have the same connotations of physical childbearing. Furthermore, "Mother of God" (Greek Μητηρ Θεου) has an established usage of its own in certain hymns, but especially on icons of the Theotokos, in which case it is usually abbreviated as ΜΡ ΘΥ (see illustration below).
I would add that the term officially first entered the Church’s vocabulary in 431 @ the Council of Ephesus, and it entered in as a Christological term, not a Mariological term (that is, the term was meant to affirm something about Jesus, not Mary). Nestorius was preaching that Mary was only Mother to the human side of Jesus and that Jesus had two distinct natures – that he was almost a split being. "Nestorius conceived of the divine Logos and the human Jesus as two separate persons who were joined together in some sort of moral or sympathetic union. According to Nestorius, the Son of God had joined Himself to the child or man named Jesus because of Jesus’ own moral excellence. And so Jesus was born, grew to manhood, hungered and thirsted, suffered pain, and was crucified, dead, and buried. The Son of God, on the other hand, endured none of these things. He was with Jesus — so much so that Nestorius taught that the man Jesus ought to be worshipped — but He was a different person altogether, one incapable of experiencing anything human. (From the council)
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception states "that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege from Almighty God and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, was kept free of every stain of original sin." Again, the dogma doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it is also tied into the Christological teaching of the Church. Because of the singular nature of Jesus’ birth, because of her anticipated "yes" to God’s call, because of the necessity of preparing a vessel of honor for the Son of God to inhabit and enter into our world, we believe that Mary was kept free of original sin (what might be translated as "sin-nature" by some strains of Christianity somewhat captures what Catholics believe about original sin) – that is, she was not radically broken or disconnected from God, not because of her special place, but because she was to be the mother of the savior – again, it sheds light and helps define a Christological function: that Jesus was and is the Son of the living God.
Next week – the rest of the Marian dogmas 🙂
Blessings & Peace,