Mother of God
Some beautiful thoughts from Abbot German of Old Forge on the use of "Mother of God"
Ever since I learned to say formal prayers as a little lad, I have called the most holy Virgin "Mother of God," and I will continue to do so, by Gods' grace, for the rest of my life, hoping that even with my last words I will invoke her. Although I confess to being, as one writer would categorize me, a "lazy former Roman Catholic", it is not for this reason that I say "Mother of God," but because such is the normal English for the title Theotokos.
The word "Theotokos" itself appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, but with a mark indicating that it is a foreign term. The first citation of the word is only from 1874, from the Tractarian E.B. Pusey, who in using it immediately clarified it by adding, Mother of God. The writer who alleges use of the term in the middle ages cites a pre-Reformation prayer in which "otheotocos" appears (from Eamon Duffy's Stripping of the Altars - the correct reference should be to p. 274, not p.24). He must be aware that it was only used in a rather superstitious context, in a prayer of exorcism, in which various other "names of God" from various languages are used, e.g., Sother, Unigenitus, Adonay and even (I don't know why) Serpens (Serpent) and Vermis (Worm.) This one dubious instance surely does not attest to any ancient usage of Theotokos in English.
The Theotokos is she who bore God - His Mother. Some translations have used Birthgiver, but that sounds barbarous. Imagine: I am introducing my dear old parent to someone. I certainly wouldn't say, "John, meet my birthgiver." No - my Mother!
Theotokos is a beautiful word, but it is Greek. To insist that it be used habitually for the blessed Virgin would be comparable to saying that we must not call the Deity "God", but "Theos", or our Saviour "Christos" instead of "Christ." No! Greek is Greek, and English is English.
If we habitually use Theotokos, we shall have to keep explaining to people what it means, since, outside of theology students, literate Orthodox or Greek-speakers it will not be understood.
Every language has its own evolution, its own genius. A writer presents, untranslated, a lengthy list of Greek words called "Theotokonyms." Nice, but what does it prove? Only that Greek can form all sorts of compound words. English is remarkably expressive and has a huge vocabulary, but often it expresses by a phrase that which another language might express in a single word. This is not a fault, it is just the nature of the language. When the church books were translated into Slavonic it was possible to form compounds that might not have existed previously, since the language was at a formative stage. But English is already a developed language, and it has its own idiom. So, we don't have a single word for chelovekoliubets, but we can say Lover of mankind, He Who loveth man, the Friend of man, etc.
For that matter "homoousios" is in the O.E.D., and it is a theological term of vital importance, yet no one is contending that we ought to retain it in an English translation of the Creed. We say " of one essence" or "consubstantial", because that is English.
I don't think that it is a good principle of literary translation to insist that every occurrence of a word of the original always be rendered by the same word in the translation. The translation must fit the context. So, sometimes we can say God's Mother, or Theotokos, while retaining "Mother of God" as the most familiar form of our Lady's title.
To the writer who did not understand the Latin word "Deipara" which is an exact equivalent of Theotokos: The "-para" does not come from the verb paro, parare - to prepare, but rather from pario, parere, peperci, partus - to give birth, from which we get such words as parturition - childbirth and post-partum depression - that which occurs after giving birth. As we shall soon sing, once we have past the hurdle of the fast, "Ecce quod natura/ Mutat sua jura/ Virgo parit pura/ Dei filium." (Behold, how nature changes its own laws: A pure Virgin gives birth to the Son of God.)
I think there is a place for the word Theotokos in English, as an alternate name for the Mother of God, particularly in such contexts as the hymn "It is truly meet." But the normal, usual, common, frequent word in English is and should be Mother of God, because that's English, not Greek, Latin or Slavonic.
Abbot German Ciuba
Old Forge, Pennsylvania