Swimming the Tiber 24: Theotokos

And then Anastasius, teaching upon [the] church, was saying, “Let no one call Mary ‘God-birther’; for Mary was of man; and [it is] impossible that God be brought forth from man.” This [thing], having been heard, troubled both many priests and all laymen in [the] same [way]; for they had been instructedThis is a periphrastic form (see note 6 from a few months ago for more general information on that) focusing on the current state of the people hearing Anastasius’ speech. before to {speak of Christ in terms of God},I have rendered this text thus for clarity in English; literally, it is something like, to theologize about Christ, or, to discuss theology in regard to Christ. and not even one [had been instructed] to divide him from the economy [of incarnation], as a man, in accordance with [his] divinity…

– Socrates Scholasticus, Ἐκκλησιαστική Ἱστορία VII.32 (my translation)

Socrates Scholasticus’ Ecclesiastical History records for us the moment at which the Nestorian heresy began. (Some of you may say, “But wait! Why isn’t it the Anastasian heresy?” The short answer is that Nestorius brought Anastasius to that particular party and probably defended him in person; he proceeded to assert “Christotokos” (literally, Christ-birther) over the traditional “Theotokos” (God-birther) for the rest of his life. Nestorius may or may not have personally denied the hypostatic union of Christ.)

This moment is important, because from the very beginning, we see the real problem with questioning Mary’s title as “Mother of God” or “God-bearer” or “God-birther.” In the first place, some people (like Anastasius and many modern Protestants) think it means that we’re saying Mary somehow predated God the Father, or the entire Godhead, and that she (rather than God) is the original originator. But no one’s saying that at all. I don’t think even the wildest, most heretical, crazy people say that.

What we are saying is that Mary is the mother of Jesus, and that Jesus is God. I have started my discussion of Mary with the term Theotokos because it’s honestly the easiest discussion to have. Calling Mary “Theotokos” says almost nothing at all about Mary, but it says everything about Christ. If we refuse to consider Mary the “Mother of God,” then we are refusing to say that Jesus Christ is God. But we know that Jesus is God. You may recall a list of verses supporting in my recent post on marriage (about a third of the way down, under point number 4).

Christology was central to the argument in the fifth century about “Theotokos,” and it is the reality of Christ’s hypostatic union of two natures that justifies the term. If you object to the term “Theotokos” on the grounds that Mary is not the mother of God the Father, or that she is not the mother of the whole Trinity, then recognize both (1) what Catholics are actually saying about Mary, and (2) what you’re actually saying about Jesus.

Because, as I said a moment ago, we’re not saying that Mary predated the Father, or that Mary is somehow a parent to the Godhead; all we’re saying is that Mary is the mother of Jesus and that Jesus is God.

And if you disagree with that, then you’re denying the Scripture on one or both counts.

I’m sure you have other objections about Mary, besides the term “Mother of God.” Don’t worry; we’ll get to them. Like I said earlier, I started with Theotokos because it’s the easiest to explain, so this short post is your reward for sticking with me on this. Next week, we’re moving on to another of Mary’s controversial titles: Queen of Heaven.

Next Post:
The Queen Mother

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