Within the early church there were many issues when it came to Christology. Some would take a
piece of scripture and develop a whole theology without properly exegeting or considering what
other scriptures say on an issue. To put it in modern terms it was proof texting, but on a
grandiose scale. A scale in which souls were at stake. The Council of Ephesus was called to
discuss the unity of Christ.
Christology And A Dilemma
More specifically, how can Christ be truly God and truly human? As if this issue were not
enough to cause division there was a political component as well. The Christian patriarchs of
Antioch, Constantinople, and Alexandria had a rivalry which stemmed from Constantinople
calling itself the “New Rome”. At the center of the council were two bishops by the names of
Nestorius and St. Cyril of Alexandria.
Nestorius was a priest who became the patriarch of Constantinople. He was trained in Antioch
which had a very good reputation of defending the humanity of Christ. Nestorius starts with
diversity in Christ (two natures) then gets into trouble when trying to explain how they come
together. In attempting to explain the humanity of Christ, Nestorius looked at the Blessed Virgin
Theotokos And Nestorius
Most churches at the time called Mary the theotokos, or mother of God. Nestorius made the
suggestion that Mary should have the title of theodochos, or the recipient of God. Later on he
would make the suggestion to call her Christotokos, or the mother of Christ. By doing this
Nestorius was making an attempt to preserve the humanity of Christ, but the way he did so was
complex and in the end failed to preserve the unity of Christ.
Nestorius used a Stoic concept of what makes an individual in his argument. Properties are
inseparable to the person, and Nestorius believed that Christ should exist as two individuals
(hypostasis) or two persons (prosopon). He didn’t believe that natures changed (which is good)
because that would make him just like Apollinaris about a century earlier.
Since natures can’t change Nestorius proposed that there was a third person involved. Problem
is Christ only has two natures, and third nature or person being involved is a big Christological
St. Cyril And Christology
Hearing the argument of Nestorius, Cyril took the opportunity to say that Christ was one
individual. He did this by employing the term mia physis, or one nature. To Cyril, the view of
Nestorius implied that there were two different Christs. By saying that there is one individual,
Cyril is not saying that Christ did not have a human nature. He is saying that there is a human
soul that is in union with his divinity. This term is known as the hypostatic union and is still a
term that is used today.
Nestorius was eventually condemned at the Council of Ephesus for his “two sons” doctrine.
Cyril, who by all accounts was very uncharitable to Nestorius, called him a “New Judas”. The
council righty confirmed the orthodox position of Mary being the theotokos. She gave birth to
the whole person of Christ, not just his humanity. To think the divine came later would be a type
of adoptionism. The council was crucial in upholding the humanity and the divinity of Christ,
and it is one we can look to today for those who deny the theotokos.
The Mother Of God
The fact of Jesus having a human and divine nature coexisting in the one person of Jesus was
upheld by the Council of Ephesus in 431. As a result the Greek term for Mary known
as Theotokos was upheld.
In short calling Mary the Mother of God has everything to do with understanding Jesus properly,
and even less to do with Mary. Regarding this para 495 of the Catechism states, “Called in the
Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus, Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and
even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord”. In fact, the One whom she
conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none
other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church
confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos)”.
Jesus was fully God and fully man from the time of his conception. Mary gave birth to the
second person of the Trinity, not a boy who would latter take on a divine nature.
The divine nature was already there. Since Mary gave birth to Jesus, who we affirm to be God
incarnate, she gave birth to God.
Yes my friends, it really is that simple. Nestorianism is the logical consequence for those who
deny the Theotokos.
Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us.
Happy New Year!