Monday, December 21, 2009

Et tu, Nestorius?

Our Eastern Orthodox and Romanist friends like to accuse Calvinism of being Nestorian (that is, the view that Christ is two persons, not one, allegedly held by a 5th-century figure named Nestorius, and which view was formally condemned at the 3rd Ecumenical Council, at Ephesus). Here are some recent posts that repudiate this erroneous contention, as well as calling into question how much such an allegation matters.

In chronological order, with highlights pasted here:
From TurretinFan -

Response to Jay Dyer on Calvinism (Part 2 of 13)

The Nestorian error is (to put it concisely) to deny the hypostatic union. Nestorianism, as it is classically defined, argues that Christ was not one person with two natures, but two persons. The existence of the hypostatic union is critical to the Calvinistic view of the atonement...The fact that the person of Christ had a truly human nature made the atoning death of Christ possible, as well as making the form of the sacrifice (death of man) a proper suffering of the penalty due. Without one or the other, the atonement would be impossible. Consequently, it would be impossible for a consistent Calvinist to embrace Nestorianism.
In the years since "theotokos" became accepted terminology, Mary grew to have an increasing role in the worship of Rome, until today we have apologists for Catholicism insisting that devotion to Mary is a mandatory part of religious life. Now, an official document from the Vatican from the 1970's states: "With his mind raised to heaven ... the priest should very often turn to Mary, the Mother of God, ... and daily ask her for the grace of conforming himself to her Son." (source) If Nestorius were still around today, he'd feel vindicated in opposing the term "theotokos" on the ground that it can lead to what amounts to Mary-worship... (last link added)

Further Response to Dyer does not appear, on the historical record that we have before us, that Cyril accurately represented Nestorius in his characterization's of Nestorius' views. I'm not sure why Dyer is so set on defending Cyril on this point. Why not just admit that Cyril was fallible, and may have misunderstood Nestorius for a variety of reasons?

From Vox Veritatis -

If Mary is the Mother of God...

...saying that Mary is the mother of Christ, rather than the mother of God, does not make one Nestorian, but rather saves one from an absurd logical conclusion.

1. Mary is the mother of God.
2. God is the Trinity.
3. Therefore, Mary is the mother of the Trinity.

This is absurd, but it gets worse.

4. Both the Father and the Holy Spirit subsist within the Trinity.
5. Therefore, Mary is the mother of both the Father and the Holy Spirit.

This is patently absurd. On the other hand, it is accurate (and logical) to say that Mary was the mother of the incarnate second person of the Trinity. That is, to say that Mary is the mother of Christ. Such an assertion maintains the unity of Christ's natures in one person, without the logical absurdities of saying that Mary was the mother of God. Thus, it is logically coherent, and not Nestorian (in the Christological sense)...
...Jesus and God are not logically identical. God is a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thus to identify Jesus as God, in the second sense, is to assert a modalistic view of the Trinity (since Jesus, encompassing the meaning of "God," must also encompass the Father and Holy Spirit, in which case the most logical explanation is that there is only one person who manifests himself in three different ways). Unless one wants to assert modalism, one cannot say that "Jesus is God, Mary is the mother of Jesus, therefore Mary is the mother of God."
(Thus reflecting my words here: She bore the HUMAN Jesus, Who was God and man. Jesus was her Creator. She bore His humanity... It is more correct to say The Person who came from her is man. And it is MOST correct to say The Person who came from her is the God-man.)

And again from TurretinFan -

David's Relationship to God

The only argument for the expression is that Jesus is God, Jesus is the Son of Mary, therefore Mary is the mother of God. But Jesus is also the Son of David. Any takers for calling David "the Father of God" or the "Ancestor of God"?

UPDATE (19JAN2010):
John Bugay said...
On the issues of councils, too, I would point to the back-and-forth of Ephesus (enforced by Cyril's armed guards) first to attribute a heresy to Nestorius and then to condemn, then Chalcedon, which, according to Pelikan (and others, especially in our day) who say that Nestorius did not teach "Nestorianism" and was wrongly condemned. (see Kallistos Ware and a room full of Orthodox and Catholic bishops heartily applaud this notion, here: ) And then Constantinople II in 553 ad, which condemns by name individuals such as Nestorius, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret, etc.

John Bugay said...
Specifically, this video (Clip 01): "Nestorius himself did not hold the Nestorian heresy" around 2:30

Finally, this fine post from Vox Veritatis deserves to be read in its entirety.


John said...

The exact same logic leads to:

1. Jesus is God
2. God is a trinity.
3. Therefore, Jesus is a trinity.

If you can cope with saying Jesus is God, there is no logical reason to object to Jesus being the Mother of God.

Probably until protestants can grasp this simple fact, they will continue to get this accusation.

Matt said...


Your assertion is patently false. It is rather the "non-Protestant logic" which leads to this kind of argument. I have demonstrated this point and thoroughly refuted this assertion of yours here. So, how about interacting with our arguments themselves, instead of repeatedly throwing out unsustainable assertions?

Fr. David said...

Um...we call David the ancestor of God all the time. Along with Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna.

So, yeah.

bossmanham said...

As a protestant myself, I'm not sure the logical syllogisms necessarily work the way they are being stated, since the qualification of God being triune is being discarded in at least the first premise. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. The Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Holy Spirit or the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Jesus is God the Son and Mary is the Mother of Jesus, who is God. Mary is the mother of God. It's not a comprehensive statement, since God is triune (Mary is not the mother of the Father or the Holy Spirit), but it is also not incorrect in what it conveys. It is also historically accepted almost universally to call Mary the Theotokos. I'm with RC Sproul. I don't think there's a problem in calling her that.

Rhology said...

I have a problem with it, but I'm not prepared to say it's the devil. It's just that "Christotokos" and "Mary, mother of CHRIST" are FAR more correct and helpful, and less dangerous.

Lucian said...

Any takers for calling David "the Father of God" or the "Ancestor of God"?

That's how we call him (and other forefathers of the Lord according to the flesh). And we call James the brother of God. (So, yes, we're pretty consistent, as You can see).

Lucian said...

If Nestorius were still around today, ...

Uhm... Nestorians ARE still around today, and they do "worship" the saints just as much as Catholics and Orthodox and Monophysites do. BUT they don't reffer to Mary as Mother of God, but rather only as Mother of man or Mother of Christ.

lucian said...

It's just that "Christotokos" and "Mary, mother of CHRIST" are FAR more correct and helpful, and less dangerous.

Tell it to the Bible, not to me:

Luke 1:43  And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Sola Scriptura, right?

Rhology said...

You make me laugh.

"the mother of my Lord" - yeah, she was the mother of Christ.
Thanks. Bye.

Lucian said...

Lord = God.

Rhology said...

More equivocation.

In the NT, "Lord" most commonly = Jesus.

Lucian said...

"Lord" most commonly = Jesus show His divinity... :-\

John said...

"In the NT, "Lord" most commonly = Jesus."

Which is one of the apologetics used to show Jesus is God.

Vox: "I have demonstrated this point and thoroughly refuted this assertion of yours here. "

Your post doesn't make sense to me, for the reasons I stated in my response, if you ever get around to approving it.

Rhology said...

to show His divinity.

Wait a second. You believe Jesus is God?

Viisaus said...

I do not doubt that EOs are used to calling David a "forefather of KYRIOS", (Lord) but are the any examples of EOs calling David "a forefather of THEOU"? (God)

Lucian said...

The Greeks call Saint James the Brother of God (adelphotheos), for instance.

Viisaus said...

OK, but what about David?

Lucian said...

In the Canon of the Resurrection (at least in Romanian): "God's father David, before the Ark of the shadow jumped dancing, etc"

Fr. David said...


Excellent elucidation of the right belief in why we call Mary θεοτóκος.

The problem here, I think, stems from the common East-West difference of where we begin respectively with theology; Western theologians begin with the essence of God being One -- hence the focus on Fr., Son, Spirit=divine, or God -- whereas Eastern theologians begin with the three separate persons who have the same essence due to being from the same Fountainhead: the Father.

Mary is not the mother of God in the sense that she is the mother of the Father, who is often the one referred to in the Old Testament as "God." But His Son and Word, who is eternally begotten of the Father and is divine with the same exact divinity as the Father has (for the Son derived said divinity from the Father), is the One in the womb of the θεοτóκος. And the word θεοτóκος refers literally to "she who bears He Who is divine." The one who bore you is your mother. The one who bore the eternal, divine Son and Word of the Father is θεοτóκος.

Rhology said...

All, please see the update to the original post, thanks to John Bugay.